It used to be a weedy parking lot. But on Tuesday, Davenport city officials were quite eager to lead a tour through the 501 Brady apartments, the new three-story building that has sprouted just northeast of City Hall.
The idea wasn’t to just show off the transformation of an old city block. The federal program that provided more than $3 million to help construct the building is on the chopping block. So the tour's timing, during an annual event aimed at demonstrating the work done with Community Development Block Grant funds, was especially notable.
The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the block grant program, saying it would save $3 billion in 2018. The cuts are part of an administration proposal that would significantly reduce an array of non-defense programs.
The Trump administration says the block grant program is not well targeted and "has not demonstrated results.” Critics over the years also have complained the program, which allows for local flexibility, funnels money into the pockets of the well-connected in some cities.
Davenport officials, however, hail the program for its impact in parts of the city, where older neighborhoods have seen a dwindling amount of investment. Bruce Berger, the city’s director of planning and economic development, said the block grant program and a separate pot of money, called HOME, has helped 22,000 people in Davenport.
“Chances are, if it’s not you, it’s someone you know who has benefited from these programs,” he said. The Trump administration also has proposed eliminating HOME funding, which provides $400,000 a year to Davenport.
The idea that the block grant program is a slush fund was dismissed by U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who tagged along on the tour.
“This works. This program works,” he said. “This is an investment in a community.”
The congressman, along with other Democrats have been spending the Easter recess pointing to programs that face cuts under the Trump budget. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., earlier this week visited a Meals on Wheels staging area and delivered meals.
The block grant program also provides funding for Meals on Wheels.
Over the years, Davenport’s block grant funding has dwindled. It’s at $1.1 million now, about half what it was in the 1990s. The program originated in 1974.
Congress hasn’t dived too deeply yet into formulating spending priorities for the 2018 fiscal year. In fact, a stopgap measure expires April 28, which is a more immediate priority.
Still, city officials say funding such as block grants, while often not a large part of a project’s budget, often helps to leverage private investment and is important.
Davenport Alderman Kyle Gripp, At-large, said a private developer is planning on building a half dozen houses near to where federal funds helped to build some small houses close to 6th Street and Sylvan Avenue.
“It’s a perfect example of public dollars spurring private development,” he said.
The city also said block grant funds were used in the new apartment building that was recently completed on West 4th Street near the Scott County Administrative Center.