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County to take over HOME Consortium following Council vote
Avena Bella
HUD conducted an audit of the City of Turlock’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) management, which includes funds for low-income housing projects like Avena Bella (Journal file photo).

Although local service leaders and community members called in to last Tuesday’s City Council meeting to ask that no changes be made to the program, Turlock will no longer serve as lead entity of the joint HOME Consortium with Stanislaus County.

In a split vote, with Councilmembers Nicole Larson and Andrew Nosrati dissenting, the Council voted to reassign the lead entity of the program to Stanislaus County while Turlock remains a member city over the next three years — with the caveat that a shorter time frame be explored for the renewal agreement and that City staff assess the downsides and financial risk of the choice.

With renewal of the program taking place in three-year terms, the City needed to make a decision on whether or not to remain the lead entity by March 1 for the next term beginning Oct. 1. The City Council had three other options in addition to its choice to name Stanislaus County the lead entity, including disbanding the City of Turlock/Stanislaus County HOME Consortium, applying as a single Participating Jurisdiction or leaving the program as is and continuing as the lead entity.

During the meeting, Angela Freitas of the Stanislaus County Planning Department told the Council the County’s preference is to have Turlock continue to act as lead entity, though the organization is “ready to take over…if necessary.” She explained that Turlock possesses more expertise and stronger staffing capacity than the County, making it the better choice to run the program.

“If the County takes over as lead entity, it will essentially be building a program for the ground up…Given the expansion of HUD funds that have come into our community to address COVID in the last couple of years, now is not the best time from a staffing perspective to be building a new program and we do hope that Turlock will take that into consideration this evening when making the decision,” Freitas said. 

The City of Turlock/Stanislaus County HOME Consortium was formed between the two jurisdictions in 1999, allowing them to qualify for State HOME funds as an entitled entity rather than apply for the money on their own, since the process was becoming more competitive. The HOME Consortium allows for an annual direct allocation of grant funding, eliminating the need for the jurisdictions to compete for State funding.

When the HOME Consortium was formed, the City of Turlock was named lead entity which authorized it to act as the representative for implementation and administration of the funding. Since the program’s first year, the City of Turlock and the Stanislaus Urban County (including Ceres, Hughson, Newman, Oakdale, Patterson, Riverbank, Waterford and unincorporated areas) have received approximately $26.9 million in total grant allocations, with Turlock receiving about 28% of that, or $7,657,095. 

In Turlock, HOME funds have been used for First Time Home Buyer loans and property acquisition for senior, low-income households, transitional, domestic violence victims and homeless affordable housing units.

In addition to receiving a portion of the allocated grant amount to fund the program’s administrative services, which last year totaled nearly $127,000, serving as the HOME Consortium’s lead entity also meant Turlock was able to retain and use uncommitted funds from other consortium members, which in the past have been used to fund low-income housing projects like Avena Bella.

Maris Sturtevant, a retired United Samaritans Foundation employee who founded the Daily Bread lunch truck program and works closely with the local homeless population, also called into the meeting to ask that Turlock remain lead entity. 

“This was such an innovative idea that put Turlock on the map for low-income families and providing sustainable income to nonprofits. It’s a win-win situation,” Sturtevant said. “...Let’s keep Turlock as leaders in the surrounding areas and in an upward movement in Stanislaus County.”

USF Executive Director Linda Murphy-Julien also called into the meeting to ask the Council, “Why change something that is working and is valuable?”

With last Tuesday’s decision to forfeit the lead entity title, the City will still be able to receive funds as a HOME Consortium member, but will no longer have access to the additional funds it did as lead. As a result, the City will either have to make up the about $100,000 in administrative funds currently used to pay one Housing staff member or cut the position altogether. 

Additionally, Turlock still remains responsible for undisbursed HOME Consortium funds, any outstanding projects initiated under the current and previous HOME Consortium agreements and for all long-term responsibilities of the HOME program, such as project monitoring, loan management, payment processing, etc. The outstanding projects that would remain as Turlock’s long-term responsibility include 54 unpaid First Time Home Buyer Loans, 126 projects within Turlock and 278 projects in member cities.

Nosrati opposed the decision, calling the opportunity to remain as lead entity a “no-brainer” and didn’t understand why Vice Mayor Pam Franco requested for City staff to evaluate the program. 

“...I’ve noticed over time that there have been a lot of errors out of this department on their staff reports, and I believe that it is not paying for itself,” Franco explained, stating that she received staff reports which state Turlock is the only consortium member to have utilized the funding in recent years. “If we’re supposed to be doing this for the County, why is Turlock one of the only recipients of the money?...I’m really concerned about the disorganization of this department. The numbers are different, the numbers have come to Council meetings incorrectly and it seems that Turlock gets the benefit of all the projects and the rest of the County doesn’t.”

Larson took issue with Franco having access to reports that the rest of the Council did not.

“If the idea is that this department is not run adequately to your standards, I would need to see specifics as to why other than, ‘Some of these numbers don’t line up,’ at this point in the meeting when the vote is about to be taken,” Larson said. “...We’re literally declining free money and free administrative support to administer these programs.”

Franco also went on to say that low-income housing projects like Avena Bella have people from other cities living in them, so it’s not fair to people in Turlock.

“We have people from Patterson who now live in Avena Bella, taking up low-income housing that could have been for a Turlock citizen,” she said. 

Nosrati argued that remaining the lead entity was important because he believes the City doesn’t have a reliable policy in place to address the housing affordability crisis, noting that most developers building in Turlock are constructing homes with out-of-reach prices.

“...We are just disregarding the public’s input, disregarding servicing our low-income community without any clear direction or understanding,” Nosrati said. 

“No we are not, we are not doing anything more than taking our management of it and giving it back to the County where it belongs,” Franco responded.