JoCo on the Go Podcast: CDBG - Community Development Block Grants

On episode #152 of JoCo on the Go, we tell you all about an acronym you may have heard before…CDBG. Community Development Block Grants are federal funds administered locally, used to improve housing for those with low-to-moderate incomes as well as make neighborhood improvements. You will learn how you can have your voice heard on Johnson County’s current needs for 2024 planning, as well how hundreds of thousands of dollars can still be accessed this year.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Community Development Block Grants

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Time Subject
00:00 Introduction
03:46 What is a community development block grant?
05:48 The impact of CDBG
07:32 Importance of funding
08:41 Public comment participation
10:11 How to apply
14:52 Current state of the program
17:10 Thank you


Jody Hanson  0:00  

Community Development Block Grant funds are used in Johnson County cities to leverage significant community projects and help provide for some of our community's most vulnerable residents. On this episode, learn all about CDBG funding, how it's used, who it helps, and how the public can weigh in on the current level of need in Johnson County. 

Announcer  0:21  

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo. on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home. 

Jody Hanson  0:35  

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Jodi Hansen, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. My three guests today are here to talk about federal funding that we can leverage here in Johnson County to improve housing for those who have low to moderate income, as well as for improvements to our neighborhoods. Let's start with some introductions. Leslie Davis is a Community Development Coordinator with Johnson County. Hi, Leslie, can you tell us a little bit about your role?

Leslie Davis  1:02  

Yes, and good afternoon. Thank you for having me. As Community Development Coordinator, I oversee the administration of the community development block grants that we receive, that Johnson County receives from HUD. I also oversee the emergency solutions grant that we received from Kansas housing resource corporation.

Jody Hanson  1:19  

Great, thank you. Next we have Rita Carr, who is the Director of Community Planning for United Community Services at Johnson County. Rita for those who aren't familiar, please tell us a little bit about your organization.

Rita Carr  1:31  

Thank you for having me as well. You see us as a nonprofit that has been around for over 50 years. Our focus here and county is improving health and human services access and delivery. We identify community needs solutions through education and advocacy. We foster intentional collaboration and planning and prioritize community investments. My main role here at UCS is leading the Johnson County Continuum of Care on homelessness. For those who are unfamiliar with that. HUD homelessness funding requires communities to have a continuum of care and a lead agency and UCs serves in that role here in the county. We partner with the County cities, agencies and other stakeholders to fulfill those HUD responsibilities for at the local level and prevent homelessness when possible, and have services available when someone loses their housing. Our CDBG grant funds a portion of that continuum of care work.

Jody Hanson  2:34  

Okay, great. Thank you. And then finally, Janel Bowers is the chief executive officer for friends of JCDS. Janel, welcome. And a similar question, please tell us about your organization. 

Janel Bowers  2:44  

Sure, thank you for including us in this. Friends of JCDS is a private nonprofit organization that creates affordable and accessible housing for individuals who are intellectually and developmentally disabled in Johnson County. And then we and that's, that's a big part of what we do. We also make sure that basic needs are addressed so that individuals can can be successful in our community. So whether that means they need a certain shoe for work, that maybe they can't afford, or pay for things that Medicare doesn't pay for dental work or a certain therapy, we just step in, where there aren't any other resources to fulfill those needs.

Jody Hanson  3:23  

Okay, great. So, such important work being done by the three of you. So Leslie, let's start with you. The specific federal funding that we're talking about today comes from the Community Development Block Grant Program. Some might be more familiar with the acronym CDBG. It's already been referenced a little bit today. Can you tell us a bit about these funds and how they can be used to benefit the community?

Leslie Davis  3:46  

Sure, the Community Development Block Grant Program provides grant funds to states, cities and counties to develop it to develop urban communities by providing decent housing and suitable living environment by expanding economic opportunities principally for low and moderate-income individuals.

Jody Hanson  4:04  

And can you give us sort of an overall picture of this funding that Johnson County has received and maybe some specific examples of how it's been used?

Leslie Davis  4:12  

Sure. HUD awards Johnson County CDBG funds on a formula basis, taking into consideration population measures of distress, including poverty, Age of housing, housing overcrowding and growth lag, HUD has placed a 15% cap after administration expenses are allocated to be awarded to eligible nonprofits that directly benefit to benefit low to moderate income individuals through rental utility and childcare assistance as well as several other forms of assistance. The remaining allocation is then awarded to eligible community development projects like sewer rehabilitation, lighting upgrades, sidewalk and sewer sidewalk and street repairs, as well as ADA accessibility upgrades.

Jody Hanson  4:58  

And just to you set it but just to make sure people, you know, hear this point because I hear questions about this 15% of these funds can go to people that go to people that are low or moderate income are experiencing that. And that would leave 85% for the community projects. And so that is a HUD formula. That's not anything that the county has chosen to do. Right.

Leslie Davis  5:19  

Correct. That is a HUD-imposed cap on the public service funds that we can use to directly benefit low to moderate-income individuals.

Jody Hanson  5:27  
Okay, great. I think that was just worth pointing out a little bit. So thank you.

Leslie Davis  5:30  

I do. I do want to add, though, that all of the funds that we receive from HUD for CDBG do benefit low to moderate-income individuals, based on whether it's a community development project, it still has to benefit low to moderate moderate-income individuals.

Jody Hanson  5:45  

Okay, that makes sense. Great. Thank you for that clarification. That's good to know. Janel, I know that Friends of JCDS has received CDBG funding in the past. So I'd be interested in your perspective on how these dollars have impacted the people that you serve.

Janel Bowers  6:01  

Well, they have a home. I mean, that's, that's really important. If you look at Maslow's hierarchy of need, that safety, that security, that's, that's kind of where you lay your hat, right. So a lot of the individuals we serve not only have that intellectual and developmental disability, there's also a physical disability component. So it's very difficult in both probably anywhere, but if we're going to talk about Johnson County to find some place that's accessible for a wheelchair that they can call home. And so each one of the houses we create is fully accessible. Wheelchairs go into the bathroom, they go through the front doors, there's ramps that you're, you have the space to move, no matter whether you use a walker, no, no adaptive equipment, or you use a wheelchair. And they're also well within their budget, which is also I think we're all feeling that where the economy and the price of housing is very steep right now, so that, no matter their budget, they have someone that they have somewhere that's theirs, it's their homes where they live. And I think that's I don't even know if you can measure that impact long term. I mean, just self-reliance, independence, safety. Yeah, it's a huge deal.

Jody Hanson  7:13  

Yeah, you're you're really doing some great work and helping people live independent lives that might not be able to if they didn't have this funding as a resource, Rita, I understand that you lead the continuum of care on homelessness, and that's a community collaboration that brings several partners together to combat poverty and homelessness. As someone who works with agencies who are really dedicated to helping eligible residents with just the basic necessities, rent, childcare, utilities, how important is this specific funding and how does it sort of fit into the overall effort in our county?

Rita Carr  7:48  

It's so incredibly important. It's important to have a safety net when our residents have a financial emergency rent, like you mentioned. So incredibly high going up, up and up. And any unexpected cost can make a family at risk of an eviction and ultimately homelessness. We're talking very tight budgets. So things that are unexpected that can pop up like a car repair, a medical bill missed work because the person or their child is out sick. Even a large utility bill can put a person's financial situation at risk. So this rent and utility assistance prevents many households from losing their housing each year.

Jody Hanson  8:36  

And like Janel said, that's such a basic necessity that we all need. Leslie, the county is getting ready to enter a phase where we really need public feedback to start putting together funding plans for next year. So can you please talk about the public comment process and the different ways that community can participate?

Leslie Davis  8:55  

Sure, in coordination with Johnson County Housing Services, we will be holding a public hearing to gather input to assess the community development and housing needs of extremely low to moderate income residents and proposed plans and programs to meet those needs, meet those needs in cooperation with cities and county departments and other bodies, both public and private for consideration by the Board of County Commissioners. Citizens can phone these comments into the Community Development Office at 913-715-2245 to me directly, they can also email them to Citizens are also more than welcome to attend the March 8th public hearing at the Johnson County Administration Building at 111 s. Cherry, suite 2000 and Olathe, Kansas and that will be at 2pm. It's also being held via zoom and all those details can be found on our website at And this is also where you will find any updates in case there's a date change.

Jody Hanson  10:11  

I just think it's great that you are offering so many different options. Not everybody likes to go to a public meeting that like not everybody likes to talk on the phone, but maybe they'll take a survey. So it seems like there's a lot of options for people to take advantage of. So that's great. So Janel, we know you've been through the CDBG process. I'd like to hear about your experience and applying for the funding. And also kind of in with that, if there was an organization you came across that you had considered applying, but maybe had some reservations or wasn't sure, I'd love to hear what you would tell them.

Janel Bowers  10:44  

Sure. You know, it's a very well defined and supported process. And for people that apply for funding, that's, that's essential. And they provide an opportunity to attend a session on the application process, they provide you an application packet that also includes additional instructions. And I don't know if it's most important, but it's most important to me, they answer questions. So anytime that you're not sure. And and after you've gone through the application process a couple of times, it's rare that I have to ask a question, because they're very consistent. But, man, if I send an email, I have a response back the same day, and I don't want to set them up for that may not always be the case. But they're very quick to answer questions. They're very supportive through their process. And when that process is set forth, not necessarily by them, but also regs that they're trying to follow up by HUD that's very, very important to someone asking me if they should apply, absolutely. Attend to the training, read that packet and apply now, whether you get funded your first year or not, no, but it will be a good experience. Make sure that you understand that, that just like any other funder, they want to be a piece of the pie. They don't want to be the whole pie. But it will, it will help you maybe apply again in the future, have you gone through it the first time, or maybe you will be funded. But either way, you're gonna go through that process, you'll understand the priorities, and you'll probably get to do some good with what the end result is.

Jody Hanson  12:22  

That is some great advice from someone who's been through it. So thank you. Rita, what are your thoughts on the county's efforts to get public input for this? For the needs assessment? We talked about all the different ways that people can weigh in. Why do you think it's so important for residents and agencies to take the time and have their voice heard on this topic?

Rita Carr  12:44  

I think with any community-level project like this, it's important to gather feedback directly from the people it's intended to serve. I think of that phrase, nothing about us without us, at the public service component of these funds target low-income residents in the county, which is about 15% of our population. And so it's really important that the county hears from residents and the agencies that serve them to target the funds to the areas with the biggest need.

Jody Hanson  13:13  

That's great to hear your perspective on that. So Leslie, when we talk about these upcoming public hearing and the needs assessment survey, we're talking about gathering input that will be used for 2024 planning. However, I understand that there are hundreds of 1000s of dollars that still need to be spent here this year in 2023. So can you tell us kind of the status of that funding and how people can learn how to access it?

Leslie Davis  13:39  

Yes, several agencies still have CDBG cares funds to assist eligible applicants who have been impacted by COVID-19, like Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Jewish Family Services, and Kansas City Metro Lutheran ministries. We would encourage you to reach out to these agencies if you need assistance and have been impacted by COVID-19. Unlike regular CDBG funds, these funds do not have the HUD imposed 15% Public Service cap. Also Johnson County does still have over $300,000 in CDBG care funds, cares funds left to award to nonprofits or cities that needs to that need to that this these funds need to be expended by August of this year. Nonprofits 501 C 3's, Johnson county departments and Johnson County cities other than Lenexa, Overland Park and Shawnee are all eligible applicants for CDBG funds and are also eligible for CDBG care funds. As long as the funds are used to prepare for, prevent for or respond to COVID-19. For more information, see the housing and homelessness assistance guide on the Johnson County homepage.

Jody Hanson  14:48  

That would be great for people that are listening to this to take that action. We I hate to hear about funding that's available not helping people just kind of sitting somewhere so we have until August. Hopefully people will reach out out, and this funding will be spent where it's most needed. So thank you.

Leslie Davis  15:03  

We are actually I'm sorry to interrupt we are. We are in the middle of our fifth round of CDBG CV applications. The deadline for Olathe applications is February 17. And the deadline for Johnson County is February 24. I'm so sorry. I forgot to add that. 

Jody Hanson  15:20  

No, that's great. That's great detail. Thank you. So Rita, when you hear that you hear about this funding that's still available, what is your response to know that there's so much funding that's still available in our community?

Rita Carr  15:32  

Yet, the need is so high, I get calls nearly every day asking about rent and utility assistance, and we are not a direct provider of that service. So I get these calls. And I know that the need is out there. And it's a matter of linking people to the right assistance. It's within a time right now where that just recently that Kansas emergency Rental Assistance Fund expired. So I'd imagine the rent assistance calls are about to go up even more.

Jody Hanson  16:06  

So yeah, it was really just getting the word out about this available funding and connecting it linking people to where they can access at the best. So thank you. Janelle, is there anything else you would like to add about your thoughts on how Johnson County administers this funding and how the community just overall can benefit from it?

Janel Bowers  16:23  

So honestly, the department should be commended for the work they do on this grant funding, it is a very complex process, in terms of on their end, ensuring that the applications they put out meet the requirements by HUD and, and kind of juggling all of those priorities. Um, CDBG, funds are limited in scope. And so sometimes, you know, what you can use them for, and what people want you to use them for do not always match. And I think that they have done a really good job of just ensuring that people stay informed and making sure that that everything comes together in terms of being within requirements from HUD. You know, and and, honestly, thank you for doing this podcast. I mean, while I'm listening to others talk, I sit there and think, Well, gosh, I wonder if so and so's applied for then probably hop off there and shoot some emails about, you know, who else could be doing helpful things that maybe don't know this funding exists? So this podcast is great.

Jody Hanson  17:27  

Well, thank you all for sharing your perspectives on this. This topic. I think everyone's going to learn a lot by listening to this. So I just wanted to summarize a few items that we covered and where you can learn more. The public can weigh in on the needs of our community at a public hearing on March 8 at 2pm. That takes place at the Johnson County administration building that's at 111 South Cherry Street in downtown Olathe on the second floor in suite 2000. To learn more about the funding that's available right now that needs to be spent this year, we would have you visit and look for the housing and homelessness assistance guide. So again, I just wanted to thank Leslie and Janel and Rita for being here today. Appreciate the time and everybody just have a great rest of your day. Thanks so much. Thank you. Thank you.

Announcer  18:26  

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast visit Thanks for listening

Community Development
Planning, Housing and Community Development