Ministry to fix housing, employment

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A former candidate for mayor wants Lewisburg to give his church money the city got through a federal program so the ministry can redevelop housing and the local economy.

Jerry Freeman of Finley Beech Road explained his request to the city's Industrial Development Board on Monday afternoon in City Hall. Freeman was the other candidate in the election last May that elected Barbara Woods as mayor.

The IDB's chairman and attorney both told Freeman that his request should be taken to the Community Development Board. Freeman is scheduled to speak with the City Council next week.

The CDB meets on Nov. 24 at noon in City Hall. Led by Edmund Roberts, the panel oversees nearly $500,000 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development made available for a loan to Kantus, which repaid the loan to the city so it would have that money to loan for more community development, according to discussion during the IDB meeting.

HUD's program sent the money here through an Urban Development Action Grant and Freeman pointed out that the Community Development Board limits use of the funds to $20,000. The limit was seen as too low when a local lawyer sought funding for reconstruction of a building he has on West Commerce Street.

Freeman and others associated with the Saint James Primitive Baptist Church, 1813 Silver Street, "will have other investors, but we want to start with UDAG money," he said.

It's to finance refurbishing houses that would become homes for residents here, he said. Rent and/or mortgage payments would repay the loan from the Community Development Board. That, Freeman said, and the resulting employment of building tradesmen will create jobs, and will improve the economy and the local property tax base.

"We get thousands of calls for help," Freeman said of requests to the church; people wanting jobs and housing, so the ministry wants to do something with the money held in a city account that continues to bear the HUD program name - UDAG.

"We could refurbish the community while stimulating the community's economy," Freeman said.

IDB Chairman Eddie Wiles said he didn't know why Freeman was approaching the Industrial Development Board since the Community Development Committee controls the fund.

Freeman had said the $20,000 limit by the panel overseeing the UDAG account was too low. Freeman sought support from the IDB to the City Council.

Freeman has asked to be heard by the City Council on this subject when that panel meets next on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Furthermore, the UDAG account is apparently limited for use on projects in what's considered to be Lewisburg's downtown, Freeman said.

"What we're trying to do is for around the body of the city," Freeman said.

Wiles asked Binkley for an opinion on the situation.

"I think it's great," the IDB's attorney replied. "We need more people to try to do what you're trying to accomplish. The question is: How do you get past the 20,000 limit?"

Freeman said the limit had been $100,000.

Furthermore, Binkley had explained earlier, the UDAG account is no longer federally controlled, and hasn't been for years.

Freeman had presented the IDB with documents he's gathered while researching UDAG funding.

"The UDAG money the city has is not federally controlled," Binkley said. "It started out as a UDAG account for Kantus. It no longer has any relationship to federal requirements."

Ultimately, it's how the City Council wants to use it, Binkley indicated.