Stimulus Money To Help Local Housing Authority, Unemployed

POSTED: Friday, February 27, 2009 - 7:37pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 2:23pm

EL PASO--- Unemployed construction workers may soon be in luck, thanks to nearly $13 million being dished out to the local Housing Authority. The money is part of Congress' American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The Housing Authority of the City of El Paso, or HACEP, will receive $12.7 million March 18 for capital improvements, or repair and reconstruction work.

The figure is the second largest sum being given out, after San Antonio.

NewsChannel 9 has learned these new jobs will have a bigger effect on El Paso entirely.

We visited the H.J. Sandoval Community in West El Paso, where more than 200 units are undergoing a reroofing project.

"This is one of our larger communities and it was built in the 70's, and after about 30 years a roof lasts only so long, and it's time to update," said Shane Griffith, HACEP's public information officer.

Sandoval is one of several dozen public housing sites in El Paso that needs an overhaul, and may get help from the stimulus money.

Many of the units have seen little change since they were built in the 70's, said Director Gerry Cichon at a news conference late Friday afternoon.

Besides reroofing, the work will provide for new energy efficient lighting, water efficient faucets, energy efficient windows, and in some cases, completely new housing.

"We have about a 10,000 person wait list for public housing currently so the demand for public housing here is great," said Griffith.

The new projects are meant to create jobs almost immediately. The package requires construction to begin 120 days after HACEP receives the money.

But are there even enough construction workers to go around?

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the construction field has seen more than a 30 percent growth in employment in the last four years.

Lauren Macias, the commission spokeswoman, says with the Fort Bliss BRAC construction, as well as several other projects going on around town, construction workers have been keeping busy.

Mayor Cook, at Friday's news conference, said these stimulus dollars would give contractors not working at Fort Bliss the chance for some work.

However, Cichon said the contracts would not be promised to those contractors, and would remain competitive.

But the entire community is relying on more jobs being created.

"What the stimulus package is doing is allocating $12.7 million to the Housing Authority, to HACEP, and that will immediately impact the local economy," said Griffith.

According to HACEP, for each dollar spent on these projects, they expect a little more than two dollars to be poured into the local economy.

There are rules attached with the coming check, however, said Cichon.

First, HACEP must decide how they'll spend the money within a year of receiving it.
Then, they must spend it all within three years. If they don't, they forfeit the money to other authorities who will use it.
But HACEP has more ambitious plans.

"In an effort to go above and beyond the requirements of the Recovery Act, HACEP is determined to obligate and/or spend 100 percent of the $12.7 million within the first 18 months," said Cichon.

"This is in addition to the $10 million we annually receive from HUD for capital improvements, so our goal is to inject $22.7 million into the El Paso community by 2010," he said.

The Recovery Act allocated $13.61 billion nationally for Housing and Urban Development, 75 percent of which was given to housing authorities for "shovel-ready" projects.

HACEP could receive more funding by competitively applying for a piece of the other 25 percent.

So, from the ground, up, HACEP is hoping to not only repair their housing, but also rebuild careers and spur the financial livelihood of our community.

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