City council mulls granting DASH additional funds

Published 10:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2021

DASH of LaGrange, a sustainable housing development organization, sought additional funds to continue a sustainable housing project at Tuesday’s LaGrange City Council’s meeting.

However, doubling the city’s contribution might be more than the city council is comfortable giving. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Brian Kemp authorized the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to coordinate and accept applications for $4.8 billion to be expended under the State Fiscal Relief Fund. The funding would be used pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act for the use of COVID recovery, water and infrastructure and broadband expansion.

The original deadline for applications was Aug. 31, but Kemp recently extended the deadline for applications until Oct. 31.

During a LaGrange City Council work session in August, several local entities and organizations came forward to discuss their applications and explain the projects they’d use the money for if awarded part of the funding. The LaGrange City Council approved all the submissions and passed a singular resolution to approve seven applications during its regular meeting Tuesday evening. Four of the applications were from area organizations, and the others were from the city for improvements.

DASH’s Executive Director Nate Crawford sought funds to put toward future Hillside West Gateway development, a series of 16 affordable housing duplexes that consist of mostly area median income (AMI) housing that would be built on the corner of Jackson St. and Jenkins St.

“Our target market would be the 80% [area median income] that are employed at WellStar West Georgia,” Crawford said in August. “Nearly 30% of their employees are at that 80% threshold…”

The project would cost an estimated $2.3 million, Crawford said. He originally asked for $250,000 in city ARPA funds on top of a requested $1.5 million in ARPA funds from the state. DASH’s request from the state was originally $1 million in August.

On Tuesday, Crawford returned to the council to inquire an additional $250,000 from council.

“We’re still going to maintain our 16 units of housing … but construction costs are really high,” Crawford explained when asked why the additional funds were needed. “We’re spending about $175 a square foot for construction costs.”

He added that the money would be used to clear the organization of accumulated debt costs.

“We have been cleared for about, I believe, $300,000 from a local bank, and they cover us for that based on the project’s cash flow, but we’d love to not have to use that resource and be able to use it for other projects in the future,” Crawford said.

The county has already agreed to increase its promise of $250,000 to $500,000. Funds will only be approved if DASH’s increase request is approved by Kemp, Crawford said.

The council will vote on the matter at a later council meeting. Mayor Jim Thornton noted that, should the city approve the request, the money would be reallocated from the city’s water meter replacement project, which was budgeted for $2 million.

However, if a grant from the LaGrange Housing Authority, which requested $4 million in renovation costs for a project with the old Unity School at the August work session, is not approved by Kemp, that money could be shifted to DASH.

The city originally received $5.6 million in ARPA funds during the first round of distribution this year, said City Manager Meg Kelsey. Some of the money was allocated to cover the loss in revenue in the city’s general fund as well as its meter replacement project.

“Potentially, in the next round of funding next year, if all of these things pan out, we can use more of those dollars,” she said. 

Councilmember W.T. Edmondson noted that, due to the other applicants’ requests on top of the other projects the city’s ARPA funds are being used for, approving the request may not be suitable.

“We want to spread around … and God knows I think this is a wonderful project that DASH has going … but I just have a problem giving another $250,000 when we’ve already given $250,000,” he said.

“We want to be fair.”

No action was taken by the council on the matter.