Violence prevention, expanded affordable housing options, flood mitigation and neighborhood stabilization efforts topped Davenport aldermen's list of priorities for use of nearly $41 million in federal COVID-19-relief funds.
Davenport City Council members met Tuesday with city staff to review and discuss their rankings of roughly 50 potential projects that could be funded by money the city will receive from the federal government as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law in early March.
"Here, you see the words 'neighborhood' at lot," Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said at the meeting, along with "youth assessment centers," "violence interrupters," "flood mitigation," "libraries" and "pre-K literacy."
"Things like that that we've talked about and everybody understands those are priorities," Matson said. "Those are some of the topics people keep bringing up, so I'm appreciative of the council understanding and it working together here to do that."
City Administrator Corri Spiegel said city staff will use the city council's feedback to provide a first draft of a program outline and spending plan to present to aldermen July 6, with a goal of having a finalized spending plan approved by early August.
"I feel like we are very close with noting some of the nuances and how do we make sure that we can achieve the greatest impact with what you've set forward in your policy direction," Spiegel said.
She added the city will likely need to hire temporary staff to carry out council initiatives funded by the influx of federal dollars.
City staff have proposed hiring a strategic initiatives coordinator, accountant and a design and construction coordinator at an estimated yearly cost of $350,000 over three years that would be paid for using a portion of the federal grant dollars.
"It's a three-year commitment, because they're grant funded, and then we can make decisions about what the organizational needs are beyond (that)," Spiegel said.
The following projects received the highest priority ranking among aldermen:
- $2 million to expand assistance to new home buyers in low-income areas of the city. Funding would also be used increase the maximum amount of housing rehabilitation loans provided by the city, from $20,000 up to $50,000. The increase is estimated to provide additional assistance to roughly 40-plus new homeowners as part of an effort to increase home-ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income households in low-income areas. Coming out of the pandemic, more substantial assistance is required to provide affordable housing options, according to city officials.
- $2.1 million to provide an incentive for builders and rehabbers who turn a vacant lot or abandoned house into a single-family, owner-occupied home. More than 300 abandoned structures in low-income areas of Davenport and hundreds of vacant lots could be redeveloped into houses for homeowners if the subsidy gap could be bridged, per city staff.
- $1 million in seed funding for a community-based Youth Assessment Center (formally known as the Juvenile Assessment Center). The YAC will provide a coordinated, one-stop entry site for youth and families to be assessed and receive comprehensive case coordination and referral to appropriate support services.
"The YAC will provide crucial access to preventative services to high-risk youth and families in order to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system," according to the city.
- $1.6 million for a separate, law-enforcement-based component of a Youth Assessment Center to provide "quick, holistic assessment of youth following contact with law enforcement." This component of the YAC would "assist judges and case workers make more informed decisions and move youth through the justice system more expeditiously and effectively," per the city
- $750,000 to hire "violence interrupters" -- community members tasked with aiding police in heading off conflicts before they turn deadly. City officials say the aim would be use "credible community messengers" to help police "prevent and reduce youth violence, particularly gang violence, by using community violence intervention strategies such as street outreach ... and group violence intervention."
"Davenport has seen a significant increase in gang- and gun-related crimes," according to city staff. "While DPD has made operational changes to address enforcement and investigation after a crime has occurred, what is missing is a holistic, community-based approach to prevent youth from participating in these cycles of violence."
- $2.5 million to "revitalize, re-imagine and refresh" five neighborhood parks in low- to moderate-income areas of Davenport. Parks to be considered include Lafayette, Cork Hill, Monroe, Harbor Road and Green Acres. Additional park amenities could include new and inclusive play spaces, water features, multi-sport courts and other items.
"Neighborhood parks are key to establishing healthy connections in neighborhoods," per city staff. "Revitalization of these key neighborhood parks will help to strengthen the core neighborhoods, increase healthy activities, and decrease crime."
- $2.2 million to build a community center at the Fairmount Library "that would offer activities and a positive place for youth to be." The space could potentially include a game room, computer/tech space, pre-K play space, kitchen and gym space.
"There are few resources for youth in this area of Davenport, especially those that are free or low-cost," per city staff. "The library does not have spaces that allow kids to be loud or engage in activities beyond use of public computers, etc. The Fairmount Branch serves an area of Davenport that has many low-income families."
- $500,000 contribution from the city to support development and construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza and northeast corner of Fifth and Brady streets. The MLK Interpretive Center is housed next door to a currently vacant lot, which is envisioned to be an outdoor space to allow larger groups to participate in cultural education and awareness activities, while serving as a tourism destination, memorial and hub for events.
Other projects discussed included:
- Improvements to city storm sewer systems along the riverfront to allow the city to keep River Drive and surrounding streets accessible during Mississippi River flooding, up to a river stage of 22 feet
- Vouchers for low-income families to assist with childcare costs and to provide child care facilities grants to expand their capacity
- Funding to expand early childhood literacy programs that encourages reading to children before they enter kindergarten to help make sure that kids entering kindergarten are ready to learn
- Design and construction of a planned $4 million "Adventure Play & Event Lawn" included in city plans for the Main Street Landing project located south of the railroad tracks, east of the Skybridge.
- Expansion of the city's recreation trail system to include a section that runs north-south to connect the Mississippi River Trail to Eldridge
"I think the results I'm seeing it's a very thoughtful and a very holistic approach ... addressing neighborhoods, addressing poverty, addressing crime, addressing quality of life (and) economic development and flooding" Alderman Kyle Gripp, at-large said. "We address all of those things, and I think in a way without watering down the money to the point that they're not making a big impact. I think these are all impactful projects."