Jefferson City is poised to receive new federal disaster relief money, said Daniel Engler, policy planner for the Economic Development's Community Development Block Grants programs.
Engler addressed about 40 Jefferson City community leaders, who attended Thursday's initial meeting of folks interested in creating a Cole County Affordable Housing Task Force.
"We know that we're going to be getting some more money for disaster relief — specifically here in Jefferson City," Engler said. "It's divided between three separate counties."
Holt County is to receive money, primarily for Craig. St. Charles County is to receive some. And the zip code 65101 (Jefferson City, Wardsville and Taos areas) is to receive money, Engler said.
The biggest need the agency has been hearing about for Jefferson City is affordable housing, he said.
Central Missouri Community Action hosted the meeting Thursday at Preferred Family Healthcare to let people interested in forming the task force gather and share thoughts.
CMCA serves eight counties in Central Missouri — Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage. (It also provides Head Start services in Benton, Hickory and Morgan counties.)
The group included Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, City Administrator Steve Crowell, state Rep. Dave Griffith, staff from state agencies, health community leaders, faith community leaders and people interested in the process.
CMCA uses federal Community Service Block Grants and community support to help clients with employment, education, housing, nutrition, emergency services and health, and to better use available income.
The organization focuses on serving entire families, beginning with children who participate in Head Start programs, through grandparents, said Sheila Garten, CMCA housing development director.
"If one piece is missing, it's going to put a stressor on other parts of the family," Garten said.
What Garten hoped to accomplish Thursday, she said, was to get people involved who want to continue to be a part of the task force.
The initial step is to figure out what the needs are in the community, how the CMCA can address them and what stakeholders are available to help, she said.
CMCA does a lot with housing that people don't know about, she continued.
"One of the things that we do that people don't realize that we do is we build stuff. And we also renovate things," she said.
For example, the nonprofit recently worked on a land trust with the city of Columbia. CMCA just built a house and sold it to the new homeowner, having closed in late November.
Battle High School students in Columbia build homes for CMCA through a program that uses a curriculum involving algebra, business, geometry and construction.
The nonprofit is currently looking for a property for the next build.
"We know that housing costs far more than what our salaries are a lot of times. Any way that we can do that — to be creative to get more housing stock built back up — that's what we're trying to do," Garten said. "The hope is that we can have a discussion about what you feel is needed in the community, where it might be needed (and) how the CMCA might be able to help with that."
Finding affordable housing was challenging before an EF-3 tornado raked through the Capital City on May 22, 2019. Since then, it's been very difficult.
CMCA Chief Program Officer Angela Hirsch said the nonprofit helped about 180 families find replacement housing following the disaster. About four months after the tornado, roughly 60 percent of the families had left.
"Whether they went to neighboring communities — like Columbia, Fulton, down at the (Lake of the Ozarks), what have you — several of them went to places like Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield," Hirsch said. "There's a good chance that they will not be coming back. My hope is that those who went to neighboring communities, we're able to bring back to Jefferson City."
It's not clear how many who did leave Jefferson City have returned. CMCA staff is reaching out to the 180 families to find out what their circumstances are now.
The area is in dire need of rental properties, developers offered. But the December 2017 decision by then-Gov. Eric Greitens and the Missouri Housing Development Commission to stop matching state funds for federal tax credit programs has hamstrung them. Without the tax credits, they can't afford to build and rent low-income housing.
Then-Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, who was also on the commission, was one of the two dissenting votes in the 10-member commission. Parson, now governor, warned the removal of the tax credits would harm rural communities and stall projects.
The state Department of Economic Development has provided disaster relief to be used with housing trust funds in portions of the state to use for affordable housing, said Edwin Cooper, affordable housing consultant with the Missouri Department of Mental Health's Shelter Plus Care programs.
Counties along the southern border of Missouri received about $60 million for disaster relief. They applied the funds strictly to affordable housing, Cooper said.
Several multi-family tax-credit projects each received several million dollars. Some individual homes each received some money.
Economic Development took unique approaches to the projects there, Cooper said.
Economic Development staff spent all of the past week traveling through Southern Missouri, conducting "mitigation meetings," Engler said. Those meetings help prepare communities for future disasters.
Last Monday, the new federal register came out, he said.
"Basically, we know that we're going to be getting some more money for disaster relief, specifically here in Jefferson City," Engler said. "We will have some funds coming through. We're getting ready to set up a public engagement here in Jefferson City so we can hear from everybody. And the community will have a chance to let us know exactly what they think they need or how they'd like to see these funds spent."