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Maryland

Mayor Says HUD Was Not Clear About Grant Requirements

P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR
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Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday she would make sure that services for homeless people created through a federal grant will continue even though the city has to pay back roughly a third of that grant.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has ordered the city to repay $3.7 million of a $9.5 million federal stimulus grant aimed at preventing homelessness.

The order, first reported by The Baltimore Sun, was made after an audit by HUD’s inspector general said the city, its contractor and sub-contractor could not document that all of the money had been spent appropriately on the homeless.

Surrounded by representatives of organizations that administered the grant-- St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities and Health Care for the Homeless—Rawlings Blake said HUD was not alleging fraud. And she insisted the money was spent on the homeless.  She said officials in Baltimore, like those in New York, Los Angeles and other cities found it hard to follow federal bookkeeping guidelines.

“These were stimulus funds and the administration wanted those funds moved quickly and at times were vague about the manner they wanted records kept,” Rawlings-Blake said.

The mayor did not say whether the city would appeal HUD’s decision calling the federal agency “a good partner.”  She also declined to assign blame to a policy or a person.

John Schiavone, CEO of St. Vincent de Paul, said his organization was able to help more than 115 homeless families move into housing.

“The fact remains that the funds were used properly to help homeless families become rapidly rehoused,” he said.

Cicely Franklin and her two children, now 11 and 14, were among those helped by St. Vincent de Paul was. She and her children stayed in a shelter for six months after she lost her job. The organization helped her with housing and Franklin eventually found a job.

She praised “a magnificent staff.”

“I’m just so thankful that these resources were available to someone like me who has fallen but didn’t intend to sit there but wanted to get up,” Franklin said.

Adam Schneider, director of community relations for Health Care for the Homeless, said officials should look at two broader issues; the lack of affordable housing and a 60 percent cut in federal funding for affordable housing over more than three decades.

“Fundamentally, [it] is important that this program recognize that housing is the foundation of recovery,” he said. “Getting into housing was what helped [Cicely] ultimately be able to pull the rest of her pieces of her life together.”