Metro-East News

East St. Louis residents discuss needed improvements with county leaders

A crowd of people turned out for the third public hearing of the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department to discuss the county’s five-year consolidated plan, what money is available through the Community Development Block Grant program and what it can be used for.

Terry Beach, executive director of the Intergovernmental Grants Division, led the hearing, which was held on Tuesday.

Over the last two public hearings, Beach said citizens had questions about whether specific types of activities are eligible for funding under CDBG and HOME programs and what the program beneficiary guidelines are and what the housing affordability periods used in the programs are.

“Other questions concerned whether specific types of programs and services can be accessed,” he said.

Citizens were very concerned about getting more of the derelict buildings in the city torn down, Beach said, and keeping buildings boarded up until they are torn down.

“There was also substantial interest in how home improvement assistance works, and the need for assistance with emergency housing needs,” he said.

Sallie Hatter, 84, said she wants the city to use the money to “take down all of these old ugly houses and do better at keeping the city looking neat and clean.” She also wants the streets repaired.

At the top of her list, though, is getting something done to keep her house from sinking.

“My house is beginning to sink,” Hatter said. “My house might be sitting on a mine field. I was told by these people that they would take a look at it. It might be something they can help me get fixed. I do not have any money to pay to have it fixed. I am hoping and praying they will fix it for me.”

The county’s consolidated plan runs from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2019, according to Beach, and the action plan runs from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016.

The county took over the city of East St. Louis’ CDBG program three years ago. It is the county’s job to manage East St. Louis’ money, but Beach said they are not authorized to tell city leaders where the money is spent.

“We have money to do the bid letting, and we supervise the contractors work,” he said, “but we don’t decide where the money is spent and on what projects. The citizens decide what projects they want the money used for.”

The ultimate decision on what projects the money will be spent on belongs to East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks, according to Beach.

He said St. Clair County needs to have the information from Jackson-Hicks fairly soon, because HUD needs it by Aug. 14.

Oct. 1 is the start of the fiscal year and the day when the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department can disperse the money for the projects the city chooses.

Beach said the money can only be used to fix streets, repair potholes, tear down derelict homes and to do housing rehabs.

Angela Burrage said Jackson-Hicks is trying to organize neighborhood watch groups, and when she talked to citizens while campaigning for the new mayor, she heard many citizens say they wanted their streets repaired and the derelict structures demolished.

Beach said the priorities and goals outlined in the five-year consolidated plan are “based on the assumptions about future funding levels for these programs.”

Infrastructure improvements will remain the primary focus of the CDBG program, he said, and new single-family affordable housing will remain the focus of the HOME program.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.