The quality of life may be improving in Burbank and Glendale, but for the agencies that serve the poor and needy, life is about to get a little harder.
That’s because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this year used updated census figures in deciding how much grant money to dole out to cities for social service programs. Those figures show fewer people living below the poverty line in Burbank and Glendale, and less overcrowding.
According to the federal government’s formula, fewer poor people means less funding, even if local service providers say the need is still great.
Burbank and Glendale saw their Community Development Block Grant allocations drop 15% and 35%, respectively, mostly driven by the changing statistics.
The change is riling those in charge of local nonprofits, as well as city officials, who say demand for services remains high amid a slow economic recovery.
“I can’t see how in these economic times, people can be better off as explained by HUD,” said Greg Herrmann, Burbank’s community development director.
HUD uses population, poverty and overcrowding statistics gathered for the latest census to calculate how much money it doles out. Before the 2010 data was released, the agency used numbers for overcrowding, poverty and population from 2000, adjusting only population numbers based on birth, death and migration records.
But the latest census data show that over that 10-year period, the number of people in Glendale considered to be poor slid 20% to 23,868, while the number of overcrowded housing units dropped by 62% to 6,548, according to HUD. The city’s population also dipped slightly to 191,719.
Burbank saw similar declines. The number of people living below the poverty line dropped about 20% to 8,423, while the number of overcrowded housing units decreased 55% to 2,397. The city’s population, however, held steady at about 103,000.
HUD defines overcrowding as having more than one person per room and poverty as having an income of between $11,000 for a one-person household and $45,220 for a nine-person household.
“Since this is the first time we’ve ever done it, the swing [in statistics] is almost more pronounced,” said Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesman, “If your so-called development need decreases, you get less money.”
USC Planning Professor Dowell Myers said that in general, poverty and overcrowding rates are declining, but not by as much as HUD says. The drastic change could be attributed to a different method used by the U.S. Census to count overcrowding over the decade.
“It’s the same bad data anywhere in the country,” he said.
Several California cities and counties saw their funding driven down by changing quality of life indicators, but others saw upticks, including Santa Clarita — which is slated to usurp Glendale as the third largest city in the county —Palmdale and Riverside County.
While allocations for Burbank and Glendale decreased to $901,418 and $2.45 million, respectively, requests for funding remained steady.
Barbara Howell, executive director of Burbank Temporary Aid Center, a beneficiary of the grants, said the main issue is that federal standards for poverty don’t line up with local costs of living.
Natalie Profant Komuro, executive director of homeless services provider Ascencia, agreed.
“You talk to any human services provider in Glendale or in Burbank, or anywhere in L.A. County, they’re going to tell you the need is definitely there,” she said. “The numbers aren’t diminishing.”
Glendale spokesman Tom Lorenz said the city’s cost of living may be pushing some to communities on the outskirts of Los Angeles County, where it’s cheaper to live.
“They have gone to other communities that they can afford,” he said.
Officials aren’t optimistic about more money in the near future.
And given that HUD’s metric tool is mostly based on census data, local service providers will likely have to get used to fewer federal grant dollars.
“The sad thing is, there doesn’t seem to be any recourse,” Komuro said. “We’re stuck with it for the next 10 years.”