By Shelby Harris, originally published by Carolina Public Press. Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina.
Asheville is nearly ready to dole out millions of federal pandemic recovery dollars to area nonprofits.
During an April 25 Asheville City Council work session, city staff provided recommendations for Asheville’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds. The city will receive nearly $26.3 million in ARPA funding — the second-largest allotment in Western North Carolina, trailing only Buncombe County.
Upon receiving its first batch of ARPA dollars last summer, Council approved using more than $8 million of the funds on resources for Asheville’s homeless populations, portable toilets and hand-washing stations downtown, lost parking revenue and ARPA-related administrative costs.
Aside from $6 million that the city’s ARPA manager Kim Marmon-Saxe recommended holding onto for the time being, that leaves more than $11 million to be distributed.
Council opted to use the leftover $11 million to fund local nonprofit organizations, which began submitting applications for ARPA money in September. By the time applications were due in November, roughly 80 organizations had applied.
“The quality of the submissions was very high,” Marmon-Saxe said.
“So, I think we’re congratulating ourselves on the quality of the process that we went through, but also the applications actually came in. (The quality of the applications was) very high and sustained a lot of good results.”
Only 71 made it through to consideration. That’s because Asheville officials decided only to fund projects aligning with what the city’s ARPA website calls “guiding principles” — initiatives that use an equity lens, invest in resilience, align with council’s priorities, focus on impact, leverage partnerships and consider long-term effects.
To gauge which of the applications aligned with these qualifications, the city set up a rigid grading scale for each application, which likely caused the delay of ARPA awards.
Most Western North Carolina cities, towns and counties have already appropriated the majority of ARPA dollars. Those that have chosen to fund nonprofits have found the process to be tricky.
Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk said the city put nonprofit applications on hold “as the rules for use of the funds became murkier.”
The “murkiness,” Volk said, was largely due to the U.S. Department of the Treasury waiting until Jan. 6 to release ARPA’s final rule, which outlines exactly how the money can be used.
Asheville officials also linked Treasury’s delay in releasing final guidelines to the city’s prolonged ARPA allotment process.
Mayor Esther Manheimer posed a concern about the delayed and ever-changing Treasury guidelines, which were amended as late as April, and how they could affect the city after ARPA awards had been granted. If ARPA guidelines change, and a city-nonprofit contract doesn’t fall in line with the updates, Marmon-Saxe said, the city would have to revisit the agreement.
This is one of the reasons, according to the ARPA manager, such a stringent grading system was put in place.
“I think it is important to understand the process that we’ve gone through because it has been thorough, and it has been in detail,” Marmon-Saxe said.
“I know it’s taken a while, but I think that that’s time well-spent, and the structure was pretty good.”
Asheville gave numerical scores to nonprofit applications based 40% on the proposed project’s equitable community impact, 40% on the project plan and 20% on the organization’s qualifications.
According to the city’s grading sheet, 31 applicants scored more than 80%; the lowest score was 41%. Of the 17 organizations that city staff recommended receive ARPA funding, only three received grades less than 80%: Thrive Asheville, the SPARC foundation and the city of Asheville’s proposal for a litter and cleanliness program.
The 17 programs referred to Council to be approved for the federal pandemic funds total roughly $9.8 million, which leaves a little more than $2 million for the city to allocate.
Following city staff recommendations, council member Kim Roney raised questions about the validity of the scoring system.
“If we only fund (organizations) that have the most access and process experience that maybe see the least risk, will we get to the equitable outcomes that we need?” she asked.
“And that kind of goes with what I’ve been curious about myself — am I confident in the equity scoring and the tool that we used?”
The City Council will vote on the final awards in May.
Here’s a list of projects the city recommended to be funded with ARPA:
- Litter & Cleanliness Program, city of Asheville, $840,000
- Increasing Access to Affordable Housing, Thrive Asheville, $135,000
- Domestic Violence Intervention Program, SPARC Foundation, $153,483
- Mobile Meals Expansion, Food Connection Inc., $221,676
- Continuum of Victims’ Services, The Mediation Center, $1,532,902
- Clean-Energy Upgrades for Low-Income Housing, Green Built Alliance, $363,400
- Community Engagement for Equitable Response, Young Men’s Institute Cultural Center, $1 million
- Equity & Resiliency Thru Affordable Homeownership, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, $900,000
- HELP2Day, Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., $143,128
- Homeless Services Program, Eliada Homes Inc., $473,050
- Southside Kitchen, We Give a Share Inc., $90,000
- Transformation Village Housing for Women & Children, ABCCM, $3 million
- Emergency Shelter for Domestic Violence Survivors, Helpmate, $2 million
- Mountain Community Capital Fund Expansion, Mountain BizCapital Inc. dba Mountain BizWorks, $1.293 million
- Permanent Supportive Housing Expansion Project, Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina, $1.2 million
- COA Inclusive and Accessible Government, city of Asheville CAPE, $514,120
- Modernization and upgrade of downtown bathrooms, city of Asheville, $650,000