4/21/2020 Special City Council meeting summary: support for housing insecure and small businesses, virtual neighborhood meetings

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We held a special (virtual) City Council meeting today to address several exigent issues related to COVID-19. Below is a summary.

1. We offered policy guidance for allocation of Federal CARES Act Funding. Under the act, Raleigh was allocated about $1.8 million from the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) and about $1 million from the Emergency Solutions Grant program (ESG). The city is required to submit a plan for the use of the funds to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) before the money is made available. That plan requires council approval and a public hearing.

We directed staff to create a plan that uses the ESG funds to assist with homelessness/eviction prevention, including rent and utility assistance for households at or below 30% of the area median income (AMI). As a point of reference, 30% AMI for a family of three in Raleigh is about $25,000. Also of note, by law, ESG funds are not dependent on citizenship or immigration status.

We directed staff to create a plan that uses the CDBG funds to provide rent, utility, and mortgage assistance to households above 30% AMI who are not eligible for ESG assistance.
We scheduled the public hearing and vote for May 5, 2020.

2. We allocated $1 million in funds for small business assistance. The City of Raleigh, in accordance with Wake County, defines a small business as a business with 49 or fewer employees. The funds will be administered through two community partners: The Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF) and Wake Technical Community College Targeted Microbusiness Grant.

Staff anticipates that the funds will be disbursed to applicants within 1 week of applying and approval. To qualify, a small business must have lost 25% of its revenue and make no more than $2.5 million in revenue per year. The grants are limited to one per business owner, and business owners may not use the funds to pay themselves. The money is intended to provide a bridge to small businesses so that they are better positioned to reopen their doors at the appropriate time. Qualifying small businesses may receive up to $10,000 each.

More information, including how to apply, will be available soon on the City of Raleigh website under the Economic Development COVID-19 section.
 
In the meantime, Shop Local Raleigh has created a resource page for supporting small businesses including a list of which businesses are open, providing discounts, or available for delivery or carry-out. 

Please support our small business, if you’re able. They’re a big part of makes Raleigh one of the best cities to live and why we continue to attract new people and industries.

3. We received a budget update. I’ll be direct, it’s bleak.

For FY2020 we were on track for a $3.1 million surplus but are now anticipating a $8 million deficit, in large part due to diminished sales tax revenue but also because at the onset of the pandemic, the city moved quickly to begin paying staff, such as first responders and others on the front lines, premium pay; a worthwhile investment but also an unexpected expenditure. I am told we were the first city in NC to provide premium pay. I am glad we lead on this issue.

To combat the anticipated deficit, the city plans to reduce non-essential contracts, implement a citywide non-essential hiring freeze, and (obviously) hold all business travel.

For FY2021 we are looking at an estimated budget gap of up to $36 million, which will require a 6% budget reduction. Staff will present a proposed balanced budget to City Council on May 19. Our priority will be to avoid layoffs and tax increases. During the next two weeks, city departments will work to finalize proposed budget reductions.

We will have some tough decisions to make, but we will be informed and prepared, and we will get through this rough time. The city has experienced other periods of economic struggle and rebounded.

4. We approved a process for virtual neighborhood meetings as part of the rezoning and redevelopment process. As you may recall, developers are now required to hold two neighborhood meetings for most rezonings. For some time, they have been required to hold a neighborhood meeting prior to submitting the application. On March 3, we approved a text change to require a second neighborhood meeting for large projects prior to the Planning Commission public hearing. Now during this pandemic, both neighborhood meetings may be held virtually. The neighborhood meetings are intended to be a two-way conversation that allows residents to ask questions, provide thoughts, as well as hear the applicant’s presentation.

We are very fortunate that folks are still seeking to invest in our community and develop new projects here, even during uncertain times.

Please stay safe. And please contact me if I can provide any help or answer any questions: jonathan.melton@raleighnc.gov

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