Magic Number

[Photo: Caldwell project]
Caldwell project
Photo provided by the City of Caldwell

CALDWELL, ID - When opportunity knocked on its door the City of Caldwell 25 miles due west of Boise and not far from the Oregon border was smart to answer. No, gold or silver had not been discovered beneath its sidewalks and streets. But it was still very good news.

Incorporated as a center of a developing agricultural economy in 1890. Over the decades, Caldwell's grown steadily, but not swiftly, from 800 residents at incorporation to just over 20,000 a hundred years later. Then, sometime in the 1990's, Caldwell went boom, its population doubling to more than 50,000 in 2015.

At HUD, 50,000 is a magic number, a statutory threshold that, when crossed, empowered the City of Caldwell to be eligible for and entitled to receive - if it chooses to - an annual allocation of HUD Community Development Block Grant - or CDBG - funds. The regular allocation would mean the City would have some $400,000 a year to help meet its housing, community and economic development needs. The City chose to become Idaho's ninth CDBG entitlement community effective October 1st, 2016.

There's a good chance you've never heard of the CDBG program. Since being signed into law by President Ford in August, 1974 it's invested almost $150 billion in more 1,000 towns, cities and states to help fund projects that meet three and only three "broad-gauged" statutory objectives - projects that principally-benefit low- and moderate-income residents, eliminate slums or blight or meet other urgent community needs.

Better still, CDBG's not a top-down program with decisions dictated by distant bureaucrats inside the Beltway, but, as President Ford noted, instead gives "real impetus to local decision making responsibility," expressing full confidence that "mayors, the Governors, the other local officials will assume that decision making, that action, and that responsibility."

Which is why CDBG is considered one of the most flexible, adaptable and - no surprise - best-liked of Federal programs. Just ask Julián Castro, who before becoming HUD's 16th Secretary served three terms as mayor San Antonio. CDBG "actually matters where we live," he said. "It enjoys bi-partisan support primarily because it is inherently flexible, allowing states and local communities (and their residents) to decide for themselves how to invest in their local priorities."

Caldwell is no stranger to CDBG. Since 2004 it has competed for and won three grants totaling almost $1.5 million in CDBG funds from the Idaho Department of Commerce. And it's gotten good value for those dollars, revitalizing the downtown upgrading sewer, water and utility infrastructures, adding or repairing approximately 8,000 feet of sidewalks, modernizing 35 streetlights in the downtown, and making pedestrian pathways safer, all of which have contributed significantly to the transformation of the historic train depot into a major venue for cultural, civic, and social events downtown.

No surprise, the City's sought additional CDBG funding from the state in the years since to build upon those efforts. But it hasn't won again. That's because the competition's very stiff for Idaho CDBG funds. In the last seven years alone, in fact, the Department of Commerce has awarded CDB funds to support projects in more than 100 communities big, small and everywhere in between.

Even more magical, once a CDBG entitlement community always an entitlement community, even if the City's population drops below 50,000. Just as Caldwell had to decide to become one, only it can decide to stop being one. And as long as Congress annually appropriates funds for CDBG, the City will have a seat at the table and a piece of the formula that allocates the funds.

As President Ford noted, CDBG's all about putting the power to decide how Federal funds are used into the hands of locals. That enables Caldwell to think and decide strategically about funding a balanced, long-term approach to addressing its challenges and tapping its potentials. "Now it's our choice," Mayor Garret Nancolas tells The Idaho Press Tribune (

You see that in the 10-year Consolidated Plan it's, published for public comment on how it will allocate its first decade of CDBG funding to create a rapid re-housing program for those who are or are at risk of homelessness, to launch a downtown facade replacement loan program, to promote homeownership and to spur the production of more affordable housing, to affirmatively further fair housing and promote job creation.

"The funding is essential," adds the Mayor, "to plans we have for the community." Looks like Caldwell is pleased it answered the door when opportunity knocked.


Content Archived: January 23, 2018