The Detroit News (Michigan)
BYLINE: By, Darren A. Nichols
Detroit – Chronic mismanagement may prompt the city to abandon a federally funded program that weatherizes homes for the needy and transfer the multimillion-dollar effort to a nonprofit agency.
Detroit, the only municipality in Michigan to administer weatherization funds, may work with state officials to find an agency that can handle the program. State officials cited the city’s inability to manage weatherization and block grant funds as the reason for needing a change.
“The city has agreed that the state and the city will mutually select an agency to conduct weatherization efforts in Detroit,” said Kirk Lewis, chief of staff for Mayor Dave Bing.
According to a City Council internal memo obtained by The Detroit News, about $44 million was allocated to Detroit last year. About $9 million of that was block grant dollars and $35 million was for the weatherization program, which is intended to cut energy bills for low-income homeowners in Detroit. Nearly $1.8 million in block grant money and $15 million of weatherization grant money remain unspent.
The memo says the state wants to create an authority to merge Detroit and Wayne County human services agencies, with a board that includes one-third of local elected officials.
“Due to alleged mismanagement, improper accounting and instances of criminal conduct that are still under federal investigation, the state will not be renewing its grant management contracts with Detroit DHS and will be taking the remaining funds away from DDHS,” the memo reads.
It later adds, “The State indicated the change is essential because the State DHS … is ultimately on the hook for how the grant dollars are allocated and spent, and whether it’s properly handled or not.”
The memo offers no specific allegations, but the city’s Department of Human Services came under fire for spending $182,000 on office furniture.
An internal investigation led to the dismissal of several department leaders. Information was also sent to the FBI, city officials have said.
The potential loss of the program under the city is frustrating to some city residents, who call the program invaluable.
“This program I equate to hope,” said activist Theo Broughton, founder of the community group Hood Research.
“It gives people the hope that things are getting better. When you talk about a program being available and at night they feel the wind come through and they can fill out an application (to get it fixed), that gives them an appreciation and confidence in city leadership.
“If that’s taken away, what’s next?”
The city’s handling of federal funds has been under scrutiny for years, but has come to the forefront in recent months. In November, the city forfeited more than $9 million in weatherization funding because it didn’t spend it as fast as other communities.
Detroit sent back $4.7 million to the state last April and another $4.5 million in July, officials said.To make the transfer, Bing must make the request and have a resolution passed by the Detroit City Council.
Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown said despite some pitfalls, the city should have the ability to fix the longstanding problems and administer the weatherization funds.
“Obviously there have been a lot of allegations of mismanagement, and they asked the mayor to voluntarily give it up, and he’s agreed to do that,” Brown said.
“It’s certainly frustrating when the Obama administration is sending money to Detroit that would feed babies and fix senior citizens’ homes, and every dime of that money is not utilized for that intended purpose.
“(But) I view this as an opportunity to fix the problem. We need to find the most efficient method of delivering those grant dollars to the people who need it.”
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