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Council shifts block grant funds toward shelter, food and transportation needs

By Staff | May 12, 2020

Cape Coral City Council decided to more evenly split emergency community development block grant money between resident needs and economic development efforts.

Amy Yeardsley, housing coordinator, told the elected board Monday that the city was allocated nearly $634,000 to fund efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, council became a little wary when it saw more than half of the funds — $380,000 — was meant to go to the Economic Development Loan Program, while only $100,000 was dedicated to rent and food and with $5,000 for the transportation disadvantaged.

Councilmember John Gunter said he wouldn’t be able to support the resolution if it didn’t allocate more money to rent, which has become a huge concern as many people have been laid off due to state closures ordered in the wake of the pandemic.

“I would think the lower-income families would have a hard time paying the rent. You have 60 percent of the money going to economic development,” Gunter said. “I think that money can go toward rent for lower-income families.”

Yeardsley said 42 percent of renters are “cost burdened,” defined as spending 30 percent of income on housing.

Councilmembers Marilyn Stout and Lois Welch also wanted to see money diverted to transportation and food. Yeardsley said she didn’t want to allocate money that couldn’t be spent, but that the money could be moved into certain line items.

Eventually, council asked the $380,000 be allocated for rent assistance instead, taken from economic development, with food and transportation also getting a bigger share.

Mayor Joe Coviello also gave Yeardsley the rare authority to move the money around as needed. The resolution passed unanimously.

In other business:

* Council considered an ordinance that would again modify the phasing schedule and conditions of approval for the long-awaited Downtown Village Square project, continuing the matter until July 27.

The extension was sought because the owner, Robbie Lee, lives on Long Island and doesn’t want to travel due to the virus and related travel restrictions.

The applicant proposes moving the construction of Building “B” from Phase II and Phase I of the project. All deadlines for Building B will be those originally set for Building A.

The continuance passed by a 7-1 vote, with Councilmember Rick Williams dissenting.

* Council unanimously approved a resolution for an executive order providing restaurants the opportunity to offer outside dining during the pandemic.

The outdoor dining, which would occur on private parking lots, would have to follow strict guidelines and social distancing set by the Center for Disease Control. There would be no permit fees.

* Council heard from Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, who provided an update on the Lake Okeechobbee water release schedule for the summer.

Ruane said a group is trying to apply antiquated science back into the Lake O release schedule, which the Florida League of Mayors opposes.

Ruane said the LOSOM schedule is a better process than the old one as it has resulted in better conditions for the estuary and has never resulted in a drought condition despite water shortages.

“To have someone in Congress insert this language is offensive. LOSOM has been a two-year process with all stakeholders with all uses to use the best science,” Ruane said. “To go backwards to something we used in 2000 would be a huge step backwards.”

Ruane has said the water has never been in better condition than it is now following the algal blooms in 2018.