Conroe, December 26 – Lost in all of the hullabaloo over Montgomery County Community Development Director Joanne Ducharme’s anger that her and County Judge Craig Doyal’s secret plan to give Ducharme a $45,000 pay raise over two years had come to see the light of day when The Golden Hammer broke the story, Ducharme also provided the County Commissioners Court with a lengthy report about the progress of her Community Development Department. The 180-page report and Ducharme’s furious verbal rendition of it on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, reveal a Community Development Block Grant (“CDBG”) program that is failing to meet its goals.
CDBG funds come to the Montgomery County government through grant applications to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) under the 1974 program that a liberal post-Watergate Congress passed in order to redistribute federal tax dollars back to state and local governments for community development. More than 1,150 local government entities have received grants in the program’s 43 year history.
This program, which receives very little scrutiny from the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, has largely failed to provide community development support other than some specific worthwhile re-granting programs. The re-granting programs that provided much-needed funds to local organizations include funds provided to Meals on Wheels and the Montgomery County Women’s Center.
As Ducharme mentioned in her written report to the Commissioners Court, the CDBG Department is in the fourth year of a “five year plan” in which the County government is focusing on “aid to the homeless,” a major shift away from the previous focus of the Community Development Department which had “focused on elderly and disabled residents.”
There are two aspects of Ducharme’s focus on the homeless, and her narrowing of CDBG funds to those particular programs, that seem strange. First, according to HUD, there are less than 600 hundred homeless people in Montgomery County (not including victims of the SJRA-induced flooding during Tropical Storm Harvey). There are thousands of elderly and disabled residents in Montgomery County who could use some help but for the misplaced priorities. Second, as Ducharme mentioned during her report, since there are so few homeless people in Montgomery County, Ducharme sends substantial portions of Montgomery County’s grant funds to Harris County and elsewhere outside of Montgomery County.
A review of Ducharme’s departmental budget is most certainly disconcerting. The Community Development Department’s total budget is $2,479,815 for Fiscal Year 2018. Approximately $1.3 million of that budget goes to overhead rather than to programs for which those grant funds come into Montgomery County.
Ducharme failed to mention the terrible numbers in her report, but those statistics reveal that the Community Development Department is largely a failure. Under the Affordable Housing program for the homeless, the Community Development Department’s goal was to provided affordable housing to 857 people. The actual number provided was 0. The goal for the number of households supported through rental assistance was 408, while the actual was only 172. The goal for the number of households supported through acquisition of existing units was 100, while the actual was only 7. The number of special-needs households to be provided affordable housing units as a goal was 845, while the actual was 20.
Ducharme’s explanation for the terrible failure of her Department to meet its goals is even more disturbing in the report: “The Department has noticed that the one-year goals for providing affordable housing units seem to be unusually large. Research did not uncover where the numbers are drawing from.”
Generally, the Community Development Department failed to meet most of its major goals as set forth in the written report. Ducharme and her staff should seek direction from the entire Commissioners Court rather than conducting secret meetings with the golf-focused County Judge Doyal. The Community Development Department should reduce its overhead immensely so that a higher percentage of grant funds can go to support the programs for which the County government actually received those funds.
Clearly, this Department requires some real supervision from the entire Commissioners Court and from the citizens.