EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 8, 2013

Grants would fund lead removal, social services programs and parking lot

LAWRENCE — The city would spend $426,000 to remove toxic lead paint from homes and distribute another $180,000 in grants to 17 local social service agencies as part of its plan to spend nearly $1.9 million in federal aid it hopes to receive in July.

The plan won speedy approval at a recent City Council meeting, unlike last year, when the Department of Community Development acknowledged to the council that many of the social service agencies it proposed funding had not filed the state and federal tax forms needed to receive tax-exempt status. The council approved the grants last year after directing the department to withhold them from any agency that had not filed the forms when the time came to distribute the federal aid.

This year, the department refused even to accept aid applications from three of the 20 agencies because they had not filed the tax forms. The three are the Lawtown Boxing Gym, which runs a boxing program for troubled youth; the Mercedes Baseball Academy, which runs a youth baseball program; and the MAJES Community Center, which runs an after-school program.

“We were very careful in weeding those out,” Jim Barnes, the director of the community development department, said yesterday. “We disqualified three early on when they didn’t submit the forms. We gave them an opportunity and the weren’t able to.”

The projects the council approved would be funded with an annual grant from the federal Community Development Block Grant program and another from the federal Home Investment Partnership Program, which subsidizes the construction of affordable housing. The city hopes to receive $1.3 million from CDBG and $563,000 from HOME, about equal to what it received last year, Barnes said.

In addition to funding the lead abatement programs and the social service agencies, the city would spend another $251,000 of the federal grants to repay money it borrowed for its share of the construction costs of the Gateway parking lot beside the Everett Mills complex, which was a massive headache of a project because of the heavy metals, petroleum and other contaminants that were left in the soil under the 12-acre lot during a century of mostly unregulated manufacturing. The cleanup costs $80 million. The parking lot, $4 million.

Another $200,000 would be spent to subsidize downpayments for first-time home buyers, and $261,000 more would be claimed by the community development department to pay the costs of administering the CDBG grants.

The 17 local social service agencies would receive between $5,000 and $20,000. They include a youth program run by the Lawrence Community Boating Program, a foreclosure prevention program run by Neighborhood Legal Services, and citizenship and English language programs run by Casa Dominicana.

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