WASHINGTON — The federal government will not reveal whether Honolulu’s plan to avoid repaying $7.9 million in housing grant money was adequate.
More than two months after the city submitted its final plan for bringing a Wahiawa senior center into compliance with federal grant requirements, officials are still awaiting a formal response from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Last spring, HUD said it found a slew of compliance issues amid routine monitoring of federal Community Block Development Grants that Honolulu awarded to Wahiawa’s ORI Anuenue Hale.
HUD reported eligibility problems like underutilization and facilities being rented to prohibited outside groups, and required the city to take immediate corrective action. Officials at ORI denied the problems, but agreed to cooperate with the city and federal government.
A HUD spokeswoman said that the timing of HUD’s response to the city’s final October compliance plan — which she initially estimated would take weeks, not months — should not be seen as “problematic.” But she also wouldn’t say whether the city had successfully avoided repaying the $7.9 million in federal funds that went to ORI Anuenue Hale over the years.
“HUD’s Honolulu office has had other higher priorities, a relocation of the entire office, and the juncture of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” HUD spokeswoman Gene Gibson told Civil Beat. “With the conclusion of the holiday season and no urgent assignments, our Honolulu team plans to have the formal written response to the City on the monitoring soon.”
Gibson could not give a more specific estimate as to when a letter might be sent, and said she “cannot share any information regarding this monitoring process for the City until it receives the HUD written letter.”
A city spokesman had little else to add.
“We have not received a response back from HUD and not sure when they will get back to us,” Executive Assistant Jim Fulton said in an email. “The local HUD office just completed its move to a new location on Bishop Street, so I suspect that has been the delay.”
Meantime, City Council members are preparing to discuss a resolution by Council Chairman Ernie Martin about how the city should prioritize programs that want a piece of $12 million in new CDBG funds. If passed, his resolution would replace a 2009 resolution outlining city policies on using CDBG funding.
One of the key changes Martin makes is the addition of low-to-moderate income individuals among those “most vulnerable” populations that the city prioritizes serving when selecting grantees.
Martin also explicitly includes neighborhood revitalization as one of the top priorities for the city in determining which programs should benefit from CDBG funds. Secondary priorities include improving public facilities, spurring economic growth and making infrastructure improvements.
Finally, Martin’s resolution would require the city to share with the City Council an annual report that the city sends to HUD each year. Discussion of the resolution is on the agenda for the Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
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