Big or Small

[North Custer Fire District's fleet of emergency vehicles]

CHALLIS - Unless you like to fish for trout or trek the Sawtooth or Lost River ranges, chances are pretty good you've never visited Challis, a ranching and mining community that's the largest city and seat of Custer County in central Idaho.

Chances also are pretty good that Challis is not exactly the kind of community you'd expect funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at work. Think "HUD" and most people think "big cities" like New York or Los Angeles, Seattle or Boise. Not Challis, Idaho.

The simple fact, however, is that HUD programs are available to and being put to work across the country, in cities big and small and any size in between. In Idaho, for example, there are eight cities that, because of their populations and housing stocks have, under statute, been deemed HUD Community Development Block Grant or CDBG "entitlement" communities. As long as Congress appropriates funding to the CDBG program every year each of these cities – as well as thousands of other like them nationwide – are "entitled" a share calculated by formulae that, again, is authorized by statutes.

There's a ninth "entitlement" community in Idaho – its Department of Commerce. When the CDBG program was first established more than 50 years ago the Congress did not include a population threshold that communities had to cross to receive CDBG funds. So, the Idaho Department of Commerce is HUD's "balance-of-state" entitlement, making that CDBG funds are available to cities and counties that don't qualify under statute to be designated a stand-alone entitlement like Boise or Pocatello.

Which is why every year Commerce ( invites cities and counties across the state to compete for Idaho CDBG grants for the "development of needed public infrastructure" projects that "benefit low and moderate-income persons, help prevent or eliminate slum and blight conditions, or mitigate health and safety threats in local areas." Thanks to CDBG's flexibility, it gets lots of applications.

In May, 2019, Governor Brad Little announced ( the round of Idaho CDBG winners, awarding more than $6.5 million to 14 communities to upgrade wastewater or water treatment facilities, revitalize their downtowns, improve emergency services and renovate senior centers. All the grants went to the state's more rural and smaller communities like St. Maries – population 2,402 – or Osburn – population 1,555 or Athol – population 692.

And, yes, Challis - population 1,081. It was awarded $500,000 to build a new, eight-bay fire hall to house the North Custer Fire District's fleet of emergency vehicles, The existing hall "old facility is out-of-date", doesn't meet current standards and is a "tight fit" for the District's fleet of emergency vehicles.

"It's what we need," Fire Chief Launna Gunderson told The Challis Messenger. ( "It will be so nice to back a truck in without hitting stuff. We've good horses now," she added, "We just need a new barn." Construction of the $1 million project will begin this winter.

Idaho CDBG funds, said Governor Little in announcing the awards, "expand opportunities for Idaho communities to succeed and thrive, improving the state's overall economic health" whether those communities are big or small or somewhere in between.


Content Archived: February 1, 2021