The building blocks to better communities

All hail Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). They are a lifeline for local municipalities needing money to fund important projects ranging from infrastructure improvements to updating Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to creating affordable housing. Throughout the state — and right here in the Harlem Valley — block grant dollars have helped improve living conditions for those who need it most.

In the most recent round of grant awards, sidewalk improvements and ADA improvements were the focus. 

The county described the projects:

The town of Amenia received $71,000 to complete downtown ADA improvements to 120 linear feet of deteriorated sidewalks along Route 343 east of the intersection of routes 22, 44 and 343, near the post office and other downtown businesses. 

The village of Millerton was awarded $150,000 for sidewalk replacement for 1,000 linear feet of deteriorated sidewalks on the south side of Main Street, east of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail entrance.

The town of Washington, meanwhile, received $100,000 for ADA improvements at the bathhouse in the town park on Route 44 — including widening door openings, accessible showers, toilet stalls and sinks and future upgrades, including grab bars, mirrors and lighting, and ADA parking signage.

In the past, block grants have afforded our local municipalities the chance to improve town and village halls, bringing them up to ADA standards. So, too, has it provided for such upgrades at our libraries and town parks. 

According to Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro’s office, “these municipal awards are part of almost $1.5 million in funding awarded in 2019 through the CDBG and HOME Investment Partnership programs to improve accessibility, expand affordable housing options and address critical public service needs.”

Funding for block grants comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which distributes money to the counties, which are then tasked with the responsibility of doling it out to local municipalities. Local grant awards typically don’t exceed $150,000.

According to the county, its Department of Planning and Development receives applications from cities, towns and villages, which are then reviewed by the Community Development Advisory Committee. Recommendations are then forwarded to the county executive for final approval.

We are glad to see our hometowns are committed to pursuing block grant projects. It takes time and energy — and expertise — to complete those lengthy grant applications. And it takes a group effort to come up with grant ideas. Every year, required public hearings on CDBG application suggestions are held in an effort to draw input from area residents. Though those hearings are seldom attended, they do allow for the public to voice itself, though thankfully our Town and Village Boards usually have a few ideas of their own. And, what’s really great, is that the county is responsive, frequently awarding the Harlem Valley grants to make necessary improvements.

The program is vital to our vitality — and we are glad to see its continuation. Thanks, too, to the county executive’s office for reviewing all of the applications and doing its best to provide funding for as many projects as possible. It’s not a perfect system, but without block grants our quality of life would be considerably lessened.

So take a look around your community, and note improvements you think would make a difference. And then, next year, when the CDBG public hearings are announced, share your ideas. It’s a great way to improve living conditions for you and your neighbors — and a way to exercise your rights as a citizen.