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Change in housing aid program may affect area


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One of three Havre housing assistance programs' funds could soon be returned to the state if a letter asking to retain control of the program funds is not accepted by the state Department of Commerce.

City Council members voted unanimously to send a letter to the state asking that the city be allowed to maintain its own Home Investment Partnership Program funds and have Bear Paw Development Corporation administer them, after hearing from Annmarie Robinson that the state is instituting changes in its U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programming.

"We have been helping a lot of households in the community, and so this is a huge impact to our community," Robinson, who is the director of infrastructure services for Bear Paw, said this morning.

Mayor Tim Solomon said he was "very disappointed when we got the letter."

"In my conversations with them, it's going to be a tough sell (to keep the funding)," Robinson said.

The city will send the letter soon, since the changes become effective 30 days upon the sending of notification by the state dated April 30.

"So we've already lost 18 days and counting," she said.

Neighborhood Works in Great Falls would cover the area, so the assistance wouldn't cease to exist, she said.

"But it will make it not as convenient as having its own funds, plus not recognizing all the hard work the city has done up to this point," she said.

Since the program's inception in 1992, between 60 and 70 families have been helped making a down payment on their first homes, Robinson said, and all of that has come from the initial grant and the creation of a revolving loan fund.

The changes require that a city Employee become trained and certified with the state and that money currently held by programs be returned to the state for redistribution from there. An audit by the federal program prompted the changes because Montana couldn't answer for where all the money was and how it was being spent, Robinson said.

Bear Paw has responsibly used the funds and diligently reported on them, she said, and the letter will request that the organization be allowed to continue to do so and keep the program intact.

"All they're doing is they get all the money and we're still doing all the work," she told council members.

Under the existing 1992 contract, the city will still have to monitor the program for 29 years.

The program had $116,000 available in the revolving loan fund as of March 31, Robinson said. If the state does not approve Havre keeping its funds, that money will go back to the state until the city applies for it for certain projects.

Instead of the money only being available in Havre, it will be available to one of five state districts that reaches to the North Dakota line, Robinson said.

If projects do not utilize the full amount of money in one district, the money can be reallocated after a certain period of time to a different district with a need for it, she added.

The changes won't end the city's other two programs: a landlord rehabilitation assistance program and another rehabilitation program for owner-occupied residences.

"But effectively, it does close a big component of our housing down," she said.

"It doesn't give us our full plate of what we have out there," she added.

If the city chooses not to become certified and have an employee administer the program, those funds will disappear and Havre residents will not be able to apply for the money at all.

"In essence, what they've done is made it very difficult for the city" to become certified, she said.

Even if the city becomes certified, another issue of confidentiality arises, Robinson said.

If the loans are processed at City Hall, they become public record, whereas confidentiality is maintained through Bear Paw.


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