LYNN — A community forum on Wednesday morning outlined how the city’s five-year Consolidated Plan and Annual Action Plan will be developed.
John Washek, founder of Edgemere Consulting, the Massachusetts-based firm hired by the city and Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) to compile the plans, presented the two proposals during the virtual forum, which included a discussion on potential funding sources, such as grants or funds that could be used from the city budget.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires a consolidated plan to support the city’s use of federal funds, which includes its expenditures from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnership (HOME) and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) programs.
“The Consolidated Plan is a framework for the five years of activities,” said Washek. “There is an action plan that gets submitted each year, which identifies the specific projects that are going to be undertaken using the fiscal year funding under the three programs: CDBG, HOME and ESG.”
The city’s Annual Action Plan is submitted to HUD and is based on the overall needs and priorities in the Consolidated Plan.
Lynn received approximately $3.5 million this year from those three federal grant programs, which invest in improving the community by assisting low-to-moderate income individuals and families. Edgemere Consulting has been working with the city to create plans that meet its affordable housing needs.
Lynn has previously, and plans to continue to implement those funds into the Consolidated Plan by using them for housing resources, such as first-time homebuyer programs, rehabilitation loans and grants, rental assistance, and the development of homeownership and rental projects, according to Washek’s presentation.
The funds are also used for capital improvement projects including renovations to parks and fields, street and sidewalk improvements, and city beautification.
The Consolidated Plan requires the city to identify and document community needs that include housing, community development, economic development, public services and homelessness.
The Consolidated Plan and Annual Action Plan are created by working with public services and governmental agencies, businesses and civic groups and citizens. The Consolidated Plan also incorporates current plans, such as the city’s proposed housing production plan, “Housing Lynn: A Plan for Inclusive Growth,” various studies, and community meetings to determine the best use of the federal funds. Previous meetings that involved the community included the 2019 Lynn Summit and the Continuum of Care Plans.
“A central part of this process is citizen participation,” Washek said. “It’s required under the regulations and it’s certainly something that the city and LHAND encourage and welcome.”
Peggy Phelps, the director of planning and development at LHAND, said that LHAND is fully supportive of the proposed housing production plan, which it worked on with Mayor Thomas M. McGee and the city’s consultant, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
“Anything that we can incorporate into the Consolidated Plan and Action Plan we are certainly going to do so,” she said. ”One of our main priorities is going to be the creation and preservation of affordable housing moving forward.”
Washek noted that the proposed housing production plan sets the priorities, while the Annual Action Plan translates those priorities into specific projects, with the key part being securing the resources.
The CDBG grant, one of the funding sources, states that each activity that the funds are used for must meet one of the following objectives: benefit low- and moderate-income persons, prevent or eliminate slums or blight, or address community development needs.
That grant also requires that no less than 70 percent of the funds can be used for activities benefiting low- and moderate-income residents.
Another resource, known as HOME, is a federal formula program that provides grants to produce and preserve affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families by buying, building and/or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or ownership. HOME also provides direct rental assistance to low-income people. The incomes of households receiving this program’s assistance from HUD may not exceed 80 percent of the area median income.
The final grant program, ESG, provides funding to improve the number and quality of homeless shelters, as well as assistance to operate and provide essential services to them. ESG also rapidly re-houses homeless individuals and families and prevents people from becoming homeless.
“While these are really essential funding sources, they’re very limited,” Washek said. “If you look at it on a per-capita basis, it comes out to be about $26 a year for every person in Lynn, which is clearly nowhere near enough to address the level of need in the community.”
Washek said that is why it is important to secure other leverage sources from private, public and nonprofit organizations when thinking about how to prioritize those funds.
“The projects that are funded annually must tie back to the Consolidated Plan,” said Don Walker, the director of project operations at the city’s Department of Community Development.
The city is currently preparing a new Consolidated Plan to cover fiscal years 2021-25. The fiscal year 2021 began in July 2020, but HUD allotted more time to submit those plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.