How Asheville Is Spending ARPA Funds - TribPapers

How Asheville Is Spending ARPA Funds

Baker Tilly's Economic Development Manager Eli Mathes explains the prioritization process behind Asheville's HOME-ARP plan.

Asheville – To date, the City of Asheville has funded 27 projects with $24.9 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding. Most of the awards funded housing projects; $3,908,000 went toward making the municipal budget whole; $2,500,000 was awarded to the Memorial Stadium community for capital improvements; $1,240,000 went toward providing sanitation and toilets downtown; and $514,120 was allocated toward the line item, “City of Asheville Inclusive and Accessible Government.” Admin is to consume $750,000.

The federal government awarded ARPA funds in 2021. Then, it took about a year for council to approve a list of which organizations were going to get how much money. Almost a year after that, council has only disbursed about $7 million.

Asheville’s ARPA Project Manager Kim Marmon-Saxe reviewed reasons for the delays. These largely amounted to “processing” and “registration.” For example, contracts required certificates of insurance with crime liability as well as a SAMs (System for Awards Management) number from the federal government. Each of these processes normally takes three to five weeks. It took longer for some organizations, like the subrecipient whose business was registered to a post office box. They needed a physical address, so they had to change their address with the bank and take other time-consuming measures. Consequently, six of the subrecipients are still “processing.”

Marmon-Saxe said the city had until 2026 to spend the funds. So, there was still a chance that reappropriations would be available to fund Councilwoman Kim Roney’s request for non-police public safety at the downtown transit station. Marmon-Saxe said the work had been “horrendous” at times and definitely “an exercise in patience.”

In Other Matters

The city, albeit as a passthrough organization, was also receiving $4,699,862 from a $5 billion HUD fund. These HUD HOME-ARP awards are also to be disbursed to ameliorate homelessness. To handle the red tape, the city has contracted with Baker Tilly. One of their tasks is to develop a plan for disbursing funds, which must be approved by the federal government before the city can issue a request for proposals. The public hearing underway was just one part of getting federal approval before the March 31 deadline.

Eli Mathes of Baker Tilly told how surveys of provider organizations and citizens at-large in the four-county region that will benefit from the grant found that “the most significant unmet housing need for homeless persons and those at risk of homelessness is access to affordable housing units and supportive services, including case management, mental health, and substance abuse services, to connect these individuals to housing.” The residential survey used a ranked-choice system, and “mental health services” received almost three times as many weighted votes as any other option. “Substance abuse treatment” figured significantly as a write-in.

Baron Bell of Community Development Experts said that this year’s Point-in-Time Count analysis identified a need for 60 beds for 15 families and 285 units for single adults. Roney wanted members of the public to know this was an undercount. It represented only numbers of homeless people who could be found in one night. To that, Bell added that the night was in January, so cities with temperate climates, like Asheville, would have had counts that were higher than normal. Furthermore, the data should not be interpreted as the state did when it took a count of 8 referrals for domestic violence services on one night to reflect the year’s totals. The actual total was 481.

The plan must also deal with the number of persons at-risk of homelessness, and Bell cited HUD data showing a shortage of 6,115 units for these people. Bell defined at-risk as living without indoor plumbing or kitchens, housing 1.5 or more persons per room, or spending over 50% of household income on rent. For context, he reminded everybody that Asheville has the highest fair market rents in the state.

Putting it all together, the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium officially endorsed splitting the HOME-ARP allocation to spend $3.1 million developing affordable rental units, $1 million providing supportive services, and the remainder on administration and planning. Behind the decision were considerations such as making sure programs received enough funding to make a difference and accepting that the funds were a one-time infusion.

This left other wish-list items with zero allocation. Mathes explained tenant-based rental assistance was not funded; there was little point in issuing more vouchers in a region where over 50% of them are expiring before people can use them. Non-congregate shelters received no funds because they have high construction costs and no revenue stream had been identified for operations. Increasing housing stock, however, should indirectly open these two bottlenecks somewhat. Two other high-priority items that received no funding were operating costs and capacity-building for nonprofits.

Only one person addressed the council during public comment. She self-described as a disabled victim of domestic violence. She said she was recently in a car accident, and she’s about to be evicted. She walks to the store and lives without electronic communications. She said she wants to go to school so she can better herself, but said, “I don’t know how I’m going to get funding for that.” She needs a place to stay, but she didn’t know how to get a voucher or even how to apply for it. Talking with department heads in city and county government went nowhere. “Who will help me?” she asked.

Manheimer and Councilwoman Sage Turner explained that a public hearing was neither the time nor the place to answer that. They did, however, offer to direct her to services if she could send them an email.