Alyssa Sutton

At the end of February, Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, announced the designation of $10,244,083 in grants for two counties and 12 city projects through the Community Development Block Grant program.

These awards are from the state’s 2017 fourth quarter round of funding. The primary objective of the CDBG program is the development of livable communities by expanding economic opportunities, providing decent housing and creating suitable living environments, principally for persons of low and moderate incomes.

“These awards can make a big difference for Oregon communities, particularly smaller rural areas that can use a partner for large infrastructure investments,” said Chris Harder, director of Business Oregon, in a press release. “The projects set the stage for long-term economic growth and community health in rural Oregon.”

According to Business Oregon Regional Development Officer Brian McDowell, Baker and Union counties received roughly a third of the state grant funding.

The City of La Grande received $55,000 for a microenterprise project, referring to a business operating on a very small scale.

“This grant supports the ongoing business development classes that (Northeast Oregon Economic Development District) offers through the region, said Lisa Dawson, NEOEDD’s executive director.

Dawson explained that the microenterprise category is one of six different funding categories.

“One of the eligible activities (to apply for a grant) is office classroom training,” she said, adding that the majority of participants meet low to moderate income guidelines.

For the last 10 years, Baker, Wallowa and Union counties have applied for a grant for these business classes, known as the Foundation Business Planning Class, but this is the first year that the City of La Grande, under the direction of Dawson and Economic Development Director Christine Jarski, submitted an application.

The grant covers the cost of teaching the class, staff, books and classrooms. Dawson said six to 10 participants generally make up a class.

“The class has two purposes,” Dawson said. “If somebody is already in business, the class helps them to improve the current operations of the business by thinking of it afresh. Those who are in business are so involved in just operating on a daily level, they don’t always have time to think about it theoretically. For those who don’t currently own a business, it’s a class where they can plan forward or test the feasibility of their plan.”

The next Foundation Business Planning Class will be held in La Grande from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays from April 10 to May 22. Those interested can call 541-426-3598 or email . Location is to be determined.

Also among this round of Community Development Block Grants, Union County received $400,000 for housing rehabilitation.

“We’re part of a four-county regional program, which includes Baker, Wallowa, Grant and Union,” said Union County Administrative Officer Shelley Burgess. “The program allows for housing rehabilitation loans that primarily go to low or moderate (income) households.”

The counties contract with Community Connection of Northeast Oregon. The housing rehabilitation loan program is available to homeowners who meet certain income requirements, and the funds are earmarked for taking care of health, safety and maintenance issues with their existing homes.

According to Community Connection’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program pre-application, in order to qualify, applicants must:

– own or be buying a home

– if older than 60, have a net worth of less than $40,000, not including their home

– if younger than 60, have a net worth of less than $20,000, not including their home

– have adequate collateral to secure the amount being borrowed

– live in Baker, Grant, Union or Wallowa County

– meet income requirements

– have sufficient insurance to cover the loan amount

The pre-application asks for basic personal and home information, including what needs to be repaired or improved.

“We have a big stack of applications, and we won’t turn anyone away, but it’s a first come first serve basis,” said Kale Elmer, weatherization and housing manager of Community Connection of Northeast Oregon.

Elmer said now that they have received funding for the program, they will send letters to everyone whose pre-application was approved. Next, the applicants will complete a full application. The amount that participants receive will depend on available equity and the needs of the home.

“We don’t loan more than what people need,” Elmer said.

Elmer told the Union County Board of Commissioners in November 2017 that he anticipates the funds will serve 18-24 homes across the county.

Business Oregon administers the state’s annual federal allocation of CDBG funds for non-metropolitan cities and counties. Urban cities and counties and tribes are not included in the state’s program as they receive CDBG funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The next application round for CDBG funding will be open May 1 through July 31.