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Valley HUD grant got low marks

Published: Fri, January 22, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.

A Youngstown councilman wants a city employee to be disciplined for the grant application’s failure.



YOUNGSTOWN — A federal agency rejected the Mahoning Valley’s $32.4 million housing plan because it “failed to show they had the capacity and ability to carry out the proposal.”

That’s what Andrea D. Mead, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, told The Vindicator on Thursday about why the agency rejected the Valley’s proposal for money from a program to spur development and create jobs in the area.

The application, spearheaded by Youngstown for nine Valley communities, didn’t provide information as to how it would implement the program if it received the grant, Mead said.

“That was a huge criteria,” she said.

How the city administration handled the HUD application didn’t sit well with Youngstown Councilman DeMaine Kitchen, D-2nd, who was among the Valley contingent that met Wednesday with HUD officials in Washington, D.C.

“There were some incorrect assumptions by the city about certain information that wasn’t in there or wasn’t needed,” he said. “That’s why [the proposal] never got traction out of the gate.”

Kitchen said “the buck stops” with Bill D’Avignon, the city’s community development director, and Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams.

“From a personal perspective, you do say there needs to be some type of reprimand in place,” he said. The grant would have provided funding — including $11 million for Youngstown and $10 million for Warren — for housing demolitions and rehabilitation, land and property acquisition, money for down payments and closing costs to low- and middle-income home buyers, and create land banks.

The Valley communities that were part of the proposal were Youngstown, Warren, Niles, Girard, Campbell, Struthers, Lowellville, McDonald and Newton Falls.

HUD received 482 applications, and approved funding for 79.

The Valley application failed to get out of the first round when a HUD committee gave it a score of 15 out of 40 points for “past experience” and “management structure” categories.

D’Avignon, who spearheaded the proposal, said its rejection by HUD shows that “we don’t have the capacity to implement effective competitive grants” in competition with larger cities.

HUD gave the Valley proposal a zero out of 10 points for “management structure,” he said.

“They felt there was an uncertainty as to our ability to adequately accomplish what we wanted to do,” D’Avignon said.

Also, the proposal failed to include a list of past accomplishments, such as Youngstown demolishing about 2,000 vacant properties since 2006.

D’Avignon said it was unclear to him whether the HUD application required that information.

HUD officials told a contingent from the Valley at a Wednesday meeting in Washington, D.C., that information was necessary.

D’Avignon admitted, in hindsight, that information should have been emphasized in the application.

“We didn’t pick up on that,” he said. “They didn’t ask for it clearly. It didn’t occur to us.”

To review the Valley’s complete application for the HUD funding, visit Vindy.com.

The city doesn’t have enough staff in its CDA office, which also includes the planning department, to submit such applications, D’Avignon said.

“We aren’t as effective as everyone else who got grants apparently,” he said.

Two HUD officials scored the Valley application, with one giving it 111 points and the other giving it 77 points out of 150 possible points, D’Avignon said.

A successful application needed a score of at least 115 to be considered for funding.

D’Avignon pointed to the large difference between the two HUD scores on the Valley application, saying the evaluation was too subjective.

D’Avignon said late Thursday that he’d provide copies of the two HUD officials’ reports to The Vindicator today.

Councilman Kitchen was not moved by the discussion of staffing levels.

“I recognize our staffing level isn’t enough,” he said. “If you don’t have the resources, contract it out.”

When he heard how the Valley’s application scored, Kitchen said, “My wheels started spinning and I thought that some heads need to roll. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed we raised a lot of sand by pointing the finger at everyone else when the onus is on us. We don’t have the staff, but we do have people who can read” applications.

Williams said neither D’Avignon nor anyone else would be disciplined for the city’s application and the failure to obtain HUD funds.

The mayor said the application’s shortcomings were failing to convey “the experience and expertise” of the city.

When HUD rejected the Valley application last week, Williams blasted the agency’s decision saying, “It literally defies belief and explanation.”

On Thursday, a day after the HUD meeting, Williams said his reaction was a “natural” one as a result of the “frustration and anger we have anytime we feel the Valley was bypassed because of politics.”

While D’Avignon spearheaded the plan, it was also reviewed by others, including Ian Beniston and Heather McMahon of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative.

Both have recently left the MVOC for other jobs.

Beniston, who is now assistant director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., said the MVOC “provided input, review and edited” the application.

He declined to discuss the issue further.

McMahon is now the press secretary for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who was a vocal critic last week of HUD’s rejection of the Valley plan.

When asked to comment about her involvement, McMahon sent an e-mail to The Vindicator stating “no comment.”

After refusing to speak to a reporter by telephone, McMahon wrote that any questions about MVOC should be answered by its executive director.

“If you have specific questions about Congressman Ryan, you can ask me,” she added.

McMahon was asked about Ryan’s reaction to HUD’s comments about the weakness being with the local application.

She wrote: “The congressman gave you his reaction yesterday on the conference call.”

During that call, Ryan said he expects to hear something about real help from the federal government for the Valley in a few weeks.

“We don’t want someone coming to the Mahoning Valley and saying they’re going to partner with us,” he said Wednesday. “Another administrative official coming to the Mahoning Valley to make a gesture isn’t going to work. No one believes them anymore.”

After McMahon declined to comment further, Rick Leonard, Ryan’s district director, e-mailed The Vindicator.

He wrote that questions about the MVOC should go to its executive director and that “Heather would be happy to assist” with questions for Ryan.

He repeated that same message in response to an e-mail asking for a comment on HUD’s statement.

Also, D’Avignon had Sarah Sole, a CDA intern and the daughter of his girlfriend, Gemma Sole, edit the grant application when it was submitted in July.

Sarah Sole has a journalism degree from Youngstown State University and now works as a correspondent for a Warren newspaper.

When asked if he saw a conflict with hiring his girlfriend’s daughter, D’Avignon said, “I have no problem, obviously.”



1Attis(1128 comments)posted 6 years, 5 months ago

A score of zero for management structure on a scale of 0-10 says it all. Time for a total restructuring of the current management of our public funds and operations by the local yokals running the show (into the ground). Start by cleaning house of political incest. What utter incompetence.

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2mrblue(1175 comments)posted 6 years, 5 months ago

How many reps from each city were involved in the HUD grant application? You cannot put the blame on one or two people. Were calls made to HUD concerning questions on the application? If you don't understand something, you ask. There was entirely too much at stake not to get it right. And what did our leaders get other than more promises that will not be kept. The people of this valley have been pushed aside far too long. We need change and it starts with new leadership.

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3vinglass(295 comments)posted 6 years, 5 months ago

I find it particularly disturbing that D’Avignon hired his girlfriend's daughter to "edit" the grant application. How does having a journalism degree qualify her for this ? The mayor has to put an end to this kind of crap. "Attis" described it well,.."political incest"!!

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4Jerry(845 comments)posted 6 years, 5 months ago

There is a lesser government bureaucracy in the Mahoning Valley that regularly wastes money confiscated from me by taxation. There are also larger government bureaucracies at the State and Federal level that regularly waste even more of my money.

It seems, in this case, that the lesser local bureaucracy has failed to fill out the bureaucratic forms required by the larger federal bureaucracy, despite having an entire bureaucratic department devoted to filling out forms of this nature. The end result is that the larger federal bureaucracy will now waste my money elsewhere, rather than sending a portion of it back to the local bureaucracy, to waste here in the local area.

To be clear, there will be no less money wasted, but I think I am supposed to be upset that somebody else’s lesser bureaucracy will be wasting the money, rather than our local bureaucracy. Surely there is a form to fill out in triplicate to register my disapproval regarding my local lesser bureaucracy’s failure to adequately communicate to the larger federal bureaucracy that there is a pressing need to waste more money here in the local area.

I can’t wait until these same bureaucrats are controlling my health care and the amount of carbon dioxide I can exhale.

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5MikePrelee(38 comments)posted 6 years, 5 months ago

Here's a thought. YSU offers a grant writing class. Several of them, actually.


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