Northwest Indiana communities see decline in federal grant

2013-10-12T18:30:00Z 2013-10-12T20:43:07Z Northwest Indiana communities see decline in federal grantChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

Northwest Indiana communities benefiting from a federal grant aimed at bolstering development have experienced a decline in their allocations.

In Northwest Indiana, Hammond, Gary, East Chicago, Michigan City, LaPorte and Lake County receive funding through the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

But how those communities administer their grants has changed as the amount they've received has dropped.

Lake County receives $1.3 million and provides funding to 16 cities and towns, along with unincorporated Lake County, according to Milan Grozdanich, director of the Lake County Community Economic Development Department.

Because funding has been steadily cut from a high of $2.2 million over the years, the department now rotates funding to the communities on an every other year basis.

“We used to do all 16, but numbers got so small that it was hard to do a significant project,” Grozdanich said. “The money needs to be spent in the fiscal year for the most part. You can't have a backlog.”

The grants have gone toward infrastructure, sewer, street reconstruction and ADA-modification projects. The grants also are used for social programs, such as Parents as Teachers, Southlake Community Service's dial-a-ride bus and Children's Tree House.

“It's a valuable tool,” Grozdanich said. “It's something that helps a lot of low-income people, and there's low-income people in every state and every large city.”

Gary receives $3.2 million, with the bulk of the money going toward home repairs and home rehabs. The money also has funded public improvement projects to fire stations and parks as well as demolitions, said Arlene Colvin, director of the city's Community Development Department. Colvin said the amount Gary receives is about half of what it once did.

“We can't do as much,” Colvin said. “The needs are still there, but we are just not able to fund everything. We have to prioritize, and in prioritizing, some activities just can't be funded.”

Colvin said the city currently is focusing demolitions in University Park as part of an investment project in the area around Indiana University Northwest. Colvin said demolitions rid the city of dilapidated buildings and can increase property values of surrounding houses.

Hammond, which receives $2.3 million, recently used a portion of its allocation to reconstruct tennis courts at Harrison Park. East Chicago receives $1.2 million, while LaPorte gets $416,003.

Michigan City receives $615,477 through the program, down from more than $800,000 at its peak. The city uses its dollars to help organizations such as Catholic Charities, services for victims of domestic abuse, job training and home-buyer counseling services.

“It has been a continuous fight I would say easily for the last two or three years just to keep the funding we already have,” said Judy Pinkston, the city's CDBG director. “A lot of people don't understand how it impacts the community when they cut back on these funds.”

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