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Forsyth County says ‘no thanks’ to HUD dollars again

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County is maintaining its stance of “no thanks” toward federal Department of Housing and Urban Development dollars. The County Commission voted at its July 13 work session to pass up on $910,000 from the department for housing improvements in the county aimed primarily at benefitting lower income families.

The county has seven census tracts eligible to receive funding through the program. They include areas west of Ga. 400 in southeastern Forsyth, several areas west of Ga. 400 in central Forsyth and the most northwestern census tract in the county.

Forsyth officials weigh stipulations in accepting HUD dollars

The dollars can be used for land acquisition that would benefit low-income families, including parks, the construction or improvements to public facilities, including senior or rehabilitation centers, and public service facilities.

However, commissioners have been consistent in passing up the funding because of the strings attached to accepting the dollars, particularly land use and planning.

“I think that we can do better here internally as a county to guide our own future,” Commissioner Laura Semanson said.

Last year, commissioners suggested these requirements could change following the presidential election and opted to go with a “wait and see” approach.

However, the county’s stance remained unchanged, despite County Attorney Ken Jarrad stating the current regulations come with less stringent mandates on local control over prior years.

Forsyth County declines almost $1 million HUD grant again

Jarrard said the Trump administration, “effectively on the way out the door,” took away some of the “onerous” requirements of accepting the HUD money. Jarrard said some of the more stringent mandates are set to return under the Biden administration, but at least for the next year, the department will take a less rigorous approach.

“In reading the internal order, and based on guidance I gave our (chief financial officer), it appears that HUD is purposely attempting to be very light-handed in the way it sort of ramps back up some of those requirements,” Jarrard said. “And I’m not just saying this. From the language in the interim order, it looks to me like HUD is going to take a light hand for at least the next 12 months. So, I would be very comfortable, if the Board of Commissioners wants to think about this, doing it for a year and then reassessing once HUD provides some additional guidance for what it’s looking for.”

Commissioners were unmoved.

“If you get jumped into the game, you have to get jumped out,” Semanson said, also suggesting that the appropriation of $910,000 over two years is not worth the tradeoff of limiting local control.

Commissioner Todd Levent implied the “rules could change in the middle of the game.”

The county has consistently denied the HUD grants since it became eligible to receive them after its population exceeded 200,000 residents in 2015.

The County Commission originally voted in 2017 to forego the grant and did so again last year due to attached requirements. However, Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills suggested in 2020 that local non-profits could make use of the funds.

Reach Joe Parker at 770-847-8334. Follow him on Twitter @joeparkerga.

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