ESCONDIDO — The city of Escondido will receive less federal funding this year for homelessness and affordable housing resources, which some speculated may be due to a low turnout for the most recent census.
Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, allocates funding to cities and jurisdictions through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program and Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG).
This year, the city’s CDBG allocation was about $1.55 million, a 10% reduction from last year’s funds. Community Development Block Grants serve low- and moderate-income residents and areas with improved living environments, homeless resources, economic opportunity and suitable housing.
Additionally, the city isn’t receiving any Emergency Solutions Grants funding this year after just barely missing the threshold determined by a formula adding up a city’s needs, poverty, overcrowding, population growth and age of housing.
This rapid-style grant are used to quickly help at-risk individuals and families or families experiencing homelessness through prevention, street outreach, emergency shelter and re-housing resources.
Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Holly Nelson told the Escondido City Council on June 15 that data from the 2020 census may have influenced why the city isn’t receiving ESG funds.
“We understand that homelessness is one of our greatest needs here in Escondido, and we want to make sure that we are still securing funding so that we will be applying for future funding opportunities for homeless services such as state ESG and other sources,” Nelson said.
On the flip side, the city is set to receive $706,529 in HOME funds, a 13% increase from last year. This funding is used to increase the availability, quality and access to affordable and decent housing for low-income residents.
Every five years, the city approves a plan that identifies areas where these HUD funding sources can be used. Each year, staff provide an annual “action plan” for council approval that details where funding is going that year.
This year’s action plan, which the council unanimously approved at its June 15 meeting, breaks down which capital improvement projects will receive block grants and HOME funding.
The proposed CDBG capital improvement projects include $115,000 to code enforcement; $284,600 for the Escondido Education COMPACT Success Center, a youth workforce development program; and $213,956 for its homeless resource center purchase and conversion project, which will provide a central hub for people experiencing homelessness to access resources outside of regular business hours. It also includes $18,000 for water bottle filling stations in city parks and $200,345 for graffiti removal.
The HOME funds prioritize helping rental and buyer housing developments, homebuyer assistance programs, homeowner rehabilitation projects, tenant-based rental assistance and preservation of affordable housing.
“We know that overpayment and overcrowding is a widespread problem in Escondido, especially among our low-income renters,” Nelson said. “The city currently has over 3,000 people on its Section 8 waitlist.”
Under this year’s budget, $490,495 will go toward housing development funds and $50,000 to the city’s first-time homebuyer program.
The city plans to release soon requests for proposals for an affordable housing development that serves households at 30% of the area median income (AMI), which Nelson said is “extremely low income.”
Though the city’s first-time homebuyer program is popular and residents often inquire about it, few have benefited from it over the last several years. No households in 2021 were served by the program, which provides down payment or closing cost assistance for families at 80% AMI.
Councilmember Consuelo Martinez questioned how the city aims to preserve affordable housing while some tenants continue to be pushed out due to high rent prices and other factors. She noted that investment companies have bought out some older apartment complexes along Mission Avenue and that residents have been evicted without justification.
“Our top two goals are the creation and preservation of affordable housing, but I don’t see a policy for that,” Martinez said.
Martinez also believes that a lack of participation in the 2020 census skewed Escondido’s population numbers, which may have influenced the reduction in HUD funding this year.
“I know for a fact that our city grew; it was just that people didn’t participate in the census,” she said. “It’s just a reminder to the public that the census is so important because we just now saw how we missed ESG funding. … Every person who gets counted is money for your community.”