City supports Habit for Humanity grant for huge new development

Energy Capital Habitat for Humanity logo.
Energy Capital Habitat for Humanity logo.

City Council hears grant wish that would provide a parcel for up to 40 homes

In prelude to next week’s regularly scheduled Gillette City Council meeting, board members listened to some needs from three organizations seeking immediate grants. The initial reaction was positive during the workshop regarding the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) discussion.

The programs seeking grants are Energy Capital Habitat for Humanity (ECHFH) and Council of Community Services as well as come city projects.

“In years past, these organizations as well as city projects, the city has vetted these things in the past and prioritized the needs,” said City Administrator Hyun Kim. “What’s changed? Why are we submitting three grants that the city is endorsing? More money, more funds. That’s what’s changed and why the staff is recommending you consider this next week.”

Finance Director Michelle Henderson said the city has been approached by a couple different organizations to be the governmental entity that applies for the CDBG grants for them which are being administered by the Wyoming Community Development Authority (WCDA).

“This is a grant, not a loan. The money has already been spent,” explained Michael Bland, development officer for WCDA which is the chief allocator for the funds who also noted Gillette is competing with other cities for these grants. “This great news because when HUD sees this amount of money being allocated they may allocate in the future.”

The biggest of the project would be from Energy Capital Habitat for Humanity. The organization is currently building on its last available lot, so it’s time to prepare for the future.

The future would be big if the grant comes through.

“We are looking to start our next development,” said Brenda Kirk, executive director at ECHFH. “We are looking for somewhere we could develop all the houses together. This would be to purchase a very large piece of land, we are thinking we can fit 35-40 homes.”

Kirk said it would likely be the biggest Habitat neighborhood in the state. Casper recently competed a 12-house development and Sheridan recently purchased the land for an eight-house development.

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“We wanted to apply for this last year because we knew we would have a land problem but we could not decide where we wanted to build,” Kirk explained. “This year we actually have two different parcels that we’re looking at in two completely different places in the city. We are narrowing it down to one for the application.”

ECHFH, which was formed in 1997, has built six houses to date and the the final house on the land is expected to break ground next month. That parcel is located in the Westover by the golf course on West Hills Loop and Organ Avenue.

“Not only to increase our capacity to where we are building one house every four years, but also build houses in tandem,” Kirk added. “So we have more than one house going at a time so we are not starting and stopping. We can move on to the next house and have a regular application cycle so that people can apply every year for a habitat house.”

Mayor noted in years past the biggest problem has been struggles getting help with the projects. She asked Kirk if that was still a problem.

“It’s worse now,” Kirk said. “There was a huge hiring crisis before the coronavirus, now it’s bad. Most of my contractors are working with 50-60 percent less staff and could probably hire 30 people today if that had 30 qualified people walk in the door. It’s a lot harder with contractors right now that they can’t get to me until next springs, so we work with a lot of retired contractors and volunteers who are very handy.”

Bland said all this grant money has to go out somewhere and it will. But the thing the group is looking is who is addressing the need for housing.

“A lot of communities are pretty just throwing everything they can at us to try to get funded. But the vast majority of them probably won’t make that cut,” Bland said. “The City of Gillette has done its due diligence and tailored specific applications for specific needs. It looks very promising.”

The mayor wished the group good luck getting the funding and that it has the support of the city for the grant.

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What is a Community Development Block Grant?

“What are CDBG funds used for? It’s the oldest fund that the United States Federal Government has. It’s administered through Housing of Urban Development (HUD),” said grant. “It’s administered out to all 50 states. Our main focus for these funds are for low to moderate income housing issues and how they can be addressed state wide. And add into those services like water lines, sewer lines, curbs, gutters, streets. Essentially if it has something to do with housing or promoting housing for low to moderate incomes it can be used for that.”

Deadline to apply is Sept. 30

The city applies for the grant because the CDBG portion of the grants are focused only to local government. Bland said recipients and nonprofits are encouraged to reach out to local government to partner together to meet certain requirements. The city is essentially the broker for many different departments and nonprofits.

The CARES ACT money, which totals $7M, most be distributed in the next 24 months. Bland said the WCDA is allocated about $3.6M annually that it will distribute around the state.

Mayor Carter-King asked Bland if the cities are competing for the same grant money. He said that is indeed the case and he’s in charge of scoring the applications and decide where the monies go.

“Well, we sure like you,” the mayor commented.

There are three national objectives the federal government want to be addressed, and at least one of them has to be done. They are simple and very broad because the government wants this money spent.

“The first national objective is ‘are you addressing low to moderate income housing’ and ‘how are you doing it’,” Bland said. “When you’re in a rural community, like the entire state of Wyoming, areas are more used that neighborhoods. But when you get into bigger cities like Gillette, we can start targeting individual neighborhoods. That helps meet that qualification.”

“The next national objective is making sure we are addressing not just the housing, but the benefits for that community,” Bland explained. “Are we making sure there is not a food desert, like no grocery stores, no place to eat like restaurants or getting any food secured in a 3- to 10-mile radius.”

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“Lastly, addressing urgent needs in that community,” Bland said. “Urgent needs are very, very broad. Anything from a hail or windstorm to anything like what we’ve seen on the gulf coast lately. We’ve also seen it addressed because dilapidated of buildings. So, if we have a mold problem that is posing a health risk to everyone, that’s considered an urgent need by the federal government.”

Bland said the eliminated and prevention of slum and blight is also considered.

“Essentially a lot of these funds are used to empower communities to purchase properties. To demolish and then rebuild for housing or a benefit for low to moderate income people which then as a whole raises the benefit for the entire community.”