Richwood may be the recipient of federal money if Union County is quick to act on a grant tied to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Richwood may be the recipient of federal money if Union County is quick to act on a grant tied to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

John Cleek, of Community Development Consultants of Ohio, shared details of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program with county commissioners on Jan. 26.

"It is part of what is called Housing Economic Recovery Act 2008," said Cleek. "These funds are very specific in terms of how they can be used."

The funds are earmarked to the states to use for redevelopment of abandoned, vacant and/or foreclosed properties. Union County is lumped into a region based on determinations by the Ohio Department of Development.

Ohio, he said, was the first state in the country to get its plan approved by the federal government.

Union County's region also includes Logan, Champaign and Hardin counties as well as the cities of Marysville, Urbana and Bellefontaine.

Bellefontaine's housing consultant has taken the lead in administering the $1.8-million provided to the region.

"As I mentioned, the feds are throwing the money at the states and encouraging them to get on board as quickly as possible," Cleek said. "The grant applications are due at the end of February."

The seven communities making up the region elected to divide the money equally, which means Union County will receive approximately $240,000 to implement the program if it is able to meet requirements.

Commissioner Tom McCarthy asked if Marysville would receive the same amount and Cleek said it will.

By taking the lead, Bellefontaine will get 10 percent of the total for administration.

The program is not mandatory, but only two types of activities are eligible.

Demolition of vacant and dilapidated units is one activity, while the other is acquisition, rehabilitation and resale of foreclosed properties.

"We are trying to shore up neighborhoods," said Cleek.

He said he sees the acquisition, rehabilitation and resale of foreclosed properties as the most difficult to administer or pull off unless the county works with a nonprofit entity, such as Habitat for Humanity.

Cleek said Kara Brown, support services director of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, has indicated that she would be interested in using the funds to acquire and either rehabilitate or demolish dilapidated structures and build new units for her clientele.

"That is an eligible activity," he said.

McCarthy was interested in seeing the money used in Richwood.

Richwood, according to Cleek, is ranked the highest in terms of foreclosure and vacancy numbers.

"We've been struggling with how to get capital into the Richwood highrise," said McCarthy, referring to an apartment complex.

Cleek said the program has a 25 percent set-aside not included in the county's $240,000.

"Twenty-five percent of the state's entire allocation is required by the feds to be set aside for low-income rental housing projects that are 50 percent low-to-moderate income or lower," he said.

McCarthy was quick to say they should attempt to go after the money.

"I can't think of a single project that would have a bigger impact on as many people," he said. "There are 60 to 70 people, I don't know how many."

Cleek reminded McCarthy that the 25 percent might still have a requirement of abandoned or foreclosed, but he will check with the state.

Commissioner Charles Hall said he did not want to give people at the Richwood Civic Center false hope.

Cleek said Brown told him that Richwood, other than Marysville, would be preferred for her clientele.

Once Cleek has talked to state officials about Richwood, then the county will try to determine if their focus will remain in that area or be shifted elsewhere.

Hall, who attended initial meetings on the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and said he thinks they are being set up for failure, asked Cleek about the deadlines.

Bellefontaine has established a Feb. 10 deadline.

"Again this is happening very quickly," said Cleek.

Hall said if the deadline is not met, the money can be redistributed to other entities.

"They can be redistributed to the other entities if, by chance, one of the entities didn't want to participate or they couldn't come up with projects," Cleek said.

Ten months into the program, if the funds are not being spent, they will also be reallocated to other entities.

"The program is an 18-month program," said Cleek. "It gives us 18 months to commit the money to a project. We have four years to spend it, in total."

It must reach completion within four years.

The state will give Bellefontaine the grant agreement on April 1.

"One community I work in, the county commissioners are going to spend the money on nothing but demolition," Cleek said. "Working through the health department, they are targeting those funds to one village."

catwogan@yahoo.com