City of Corvallis removes Housing Operational Committee from applications, halting $1M funding from state


Sabrina Dedek

Don, a resident of the camp on the junction of Mary’s River and the Willamette River, collects flowers and poses for a photo on April 26th. Don is irritated about the garbage and trash surrounding his tent, he likes the space he occupies to be tidy.

Alexander Banks, News Contributor

A state Bill passed last year gave Corvallis $1 million to support the homeless, however, the removal of the city’s Housing Operational Committee has delayed the process.  

House Bill 4123 passed last year, allowing The Oregon Department of Administrative Services to provide grants to local governments and nonprofit corporations that agree to create a coordinated homeless response system. 

Benton County stated on their website, the City of Corvallis and them hope to build organizational capacity, strengthen the sheltering system, and support a coordinated homelessness response, with the help of local community partners.

According to them, in the past year, shelter bed capacity increased by 44%.  

The county is also in communication with other grant recipients to research the most sustainable model, while ensuring an equity-based approach to homelessness support. 

In the wake of a meeting on Jan. 17, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported the city manager, Mark Shepard, chose to remove the HOC from the review process for nonprofit grant applications, citing the process “flawed.” 

Applications from Benton County and Unity Shelter, a nonprofit organization, were rejected because they didn’t meet cost-benefit expectations. This prompted Shepard to pause the process to get more information before deciding to pull the plug. 

“Recent efforts by the city to contract with nonprofits for social services have felt more appropriate to buying a fleet of trucks than a cooperative grant-making process,” Shawn Collins, executive director at Unity Shelter, said at a city council meeting reported on by the Democrat-Herald.

He explained in an email what he meant was request for proposals, which are an open request for bids to complete a new project, shouldn’t dictate so many specifics on how needs will be met, but it would make more sense to focus on what outcomes are being sought after.  

Collins claimed that closed-door discussions from the city are limiting what can be said publicly by those involved. He said that public funding should involve the public, not just staff experts. In the council meeting, he asked for some avenue to allow community engagement and influence. 

In the email Collins wrote, “I think it hurts government credibility when citizen committees are not involved in processes to allocate public funds.  And I think it hurts government credibility when processes are changed without clear explanations of the reason, and how it will improve accountability.”

According to the article, a large, financial part of Unity Shelter’s cost estimate included improving existing operations, as opposed to funding new beds which was specified in the request for proposals from the city; so it was rejected. 

Paul Bilotta, director of community development, wrote in an email, “In the past, there have been organizations who just came to a council meeting, asked for funds, and were granted them from the council discretionary budget with a vote of the council. That is perfectly fine legally with discretionary budgets, but it does not work with state and federal funds.”

According to him, since the amount of state and federal funding has increased dramatically, there are different legal requirements around those funds. “With state and federal funds, the focus is on ensuring their funds are distributed in a fair, open, competitive and legally compliant manner,” Bilotta wrote. 

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development states on their website that  a common form of fraud is contracting and procurement frauds in community development organizations. 

“The city is just adapting to the new funding landscape where there are now so many more state and federal funds available to the city, so we need to evolve our processes accordingly. Our old methods were not well suited to state and federal funding sources,” Bilotta wrote.  

The funding process change also altered the role of the HOC, however, they are still working on housing issues. Bilotta clarified that it was the process itself that was “flawed” and not the people working on the committee. 

“Our Housing Operational Committee will still be actively involved on all things related to housing, including helping us decide funding priorities, etc. They just won’t be doing the technical exercise of scoring the applications,” Bilotta wrote. “This process change is permanent.”

Bilotta wrote that non-profit service provider input is still sought after. For example, the city reached out to a number of service providers when they wanted to understand the most critical prioritized needs for the community as part of the state’s five-year Consolidated Plan.

According to him, non-profit service provider input is still important, but it is also important when that input occurs and the type of input it is. For example, allowing extra input during the funding process could be intended or perceived to give an advantage to one applicant over another. 

“This process change will definitely speed up getting aid to the people that need it. We can score applications and make funding decisions in days whereas the old process used to take weeks or months,” Bilotta wrote.

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