Retiring housing chief presents budget

CITY HALL — The city’s ability to pursue affordable housing projects should not be affected by a projected $9.7-million budget deficit, city officials said Tuesday.

Community Development and Housing Director Madalyn Blake, who is retiring at the end of this month, presented the department’s proposed $39.2-million budget to the City Council during an afternoon budget session. Nearly all of it — $35 million — comprises federal and state grants and other earmarked funds. Other “carry-over” funds and city contributions fill in the rest for a total $42.7 million in affordable housing funds, city officials said.

“These grants provide a great service to the community,” Blake said.

The department supports affordable housing and renter assistance programs, first-time home buyers, homeless services, workforce training and code enforcement. Last year, 1,800 individuals or households were provided with emergency housing and transitional housing services and almost 3,000 with rental assistance, officials said.

The department’s Neighborhood Services Division is also spearheading the public education and enforcement campaign for the anti-smoking restrictions that were passed by the City Council last year.

As a whole, Blake’s proposed 2.5% reduction was less than what all other city departments were asked to draft, with cuts ranging between 5% or 7.5%. But her department took a hit during the last budget round by eliminating a vacant position.

Because the Community Development and Housing Department is so dependent on outside funding sources, it is, in a sense, less attached to the ebbs and flows of municipal finance. About 1% of the department is supported by the city’s general fund.

Blake predicted a possible 10% increase in federal funds as the Obama administration keys in on affordable housing projects and other community development issues. Over the years, Blake’s staff has facilitated the construction of hundreds of affordable housing units under the auspice of the Housing Authority, significantly altering the make up of the city’s core and industrial corridor.

As in years past, there have been political murmurs over consolidating the department with the Development Services Department, which oversees business and commercial development, despite the light burden on the city general fund.

Blake also hinted at the potential reorganization after her departure, and urged that any transition be made as smooth as possible for its 100 employees.

“During any reorganization, people are always concerned about ‘what’s going to happen to me?’”

After a brief budget discussion, all of the City Council members thanked Blake for her 25 years of service. They emphasized Blake’s positive effect on providing affordable housing to the city’s ever-changing population.

“We’ve had some tough times in this city that you’ve had to deal with,” said Councilman Dave Weaver, “and you dealt with them admirably.”

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