Independence Day is as good a time as any to consider Albany’s government-funded program to fight poverty. The city council did so last week when it adopted a five-year plan.
Plans like that always remind me of the old Soviet Union, which had five-year plans on everything. That the plans were never realized didn’t keep them from making more plans. It’s probably just a coincidence that our federal government requires cities to make five-year plans in order to receive federal anti-poverty funds.
Albany gets $410,906 a year as a “community development block grant” from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year it has $240,000 left over from previous grants for a total of $650,906. It plans to spend the money on a long list of activities intended to help people of low and moderate income.
Not all of it though. Some $80,000 is set aside for administration. To Councilman Mike Sykes, in a program to help the poor, spending nearly 20 percent of the annual allocation on administration seemed unreasonably high. But then, that’s the feds for you. The various components of the five-year plan before the council ran to 310 pages. Putting it all together probably chewed up a chunk of that administrative cost. (The council approved the plan 4-1, with Sykes voting no.)
There’s no doubt that Albany has plenty of poverty. A table in the plan says that according the American Community Survey, the poverty rate among Albany residents aged 18 to 64 topped 34 percent. It was just under 8 percent for people 65 and older.
Among whites in Albany who were not of Latino descent, the poverty rate was nearly 17 percent. But for people of Hispanic or Latino origin, the rate was 45 percent. If the survey is right, that’s a huge gap, and a challenge for the community to make the situation better.
There was also a great disparity in poverty rates between households that owned their homes (2.6 percent in poverty) and those that rented (nearly 43 percent).
Fixing all that, in addition to homelessness, hunger and other problems, is more than any small town can hope to achieve. But Albany is trying, as its “action plan” for 2018 shows.
Among many projects in the plan for this year is trying to help low- and moderate-income people buy a home. How many? “At least two,” the plan says. The budget for this project is $20,000.
There’s also a $45,000 project to acquire and clear a blighted property to make way for new affordable housing units. “At least one household will eventually be provided affordable housing,” it says in the plan.
Other parts of the program will reach more people, the city hopes. But you can see that fighting poverty this way is slow going.
The entire “2018-2022 Consolidated Plan” was printed as part of the council’s agenda last week. It starts at Page 265 of the agenda and if you’re up to it you can read it here. (hh)