The Sun News

Community Development Department meeting range of human needs

Sherri Windham
Sherri Windham

Residence: Perry

Occupation: Director, Warner Robins Community Development Department

Q: What’s the overall purpose of the Warner Robins Community Development Department?

A: Essentially, we work to enhance the quality of life for people in Warner Robins by assisting neighborhood revitalization and economic development. We work to strengthen our community and help it develop its potential.

Q: Is there a particular demographic you address?

A: We’re geared to help our low to moderate income citizens and bolster areas of greatest need. That takes many forms, from helping provide transportation for getting people to doctor appointments, dialysis, shopping and education to providing meals to helping with home repairs and getting houses up to code.

Q: Are services across the board throughout the city?

A: They can be and are, but we do have a neighborhood strategy area where there’s the greatest need. Our efforts are concentrated, very roughly, from Russell Parkway on the south up along (Ga.) 247 to the east and north, then to the west roughly over along where Pleasant Hill Drive runs.

Q: What you’ve mentioned so far seems more human need-oriented versus strict economic development.

A: Economic development plays a big part in meeting human need, but what we do does mostly looks like the human side.

Q: Your economic development programs are like the façade grant program a couple of businesses/agencies have used?

A: Right. That was a one-year program that’s no longer available. We got the idea at a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) workshop and it worked well and is a good example of something that hopefully helps improve an area and enhances the quality of life there. So that does happen along with funds we administer to help bring things like family counseling; counseling and services to rape victims and victims of abuse and neglect; help for homeless persons and the physical help people get for their houses. We also deal with the lack of development of new and affordable housing. Our funds go across a broad spectrum with a lot of collaboration with others.

Q: To dispense funds your work is obviously dependent on funding. How are you funded?

A: The large part of my job is overseeing the HUD Community Development Block Grant we get each year. We’re an entitlement city, which means we don’t have to go through the state or a competitive grant process, but our funds come straight from HUD.

Q: What are some of the specific projects and agencies you fund?

A: There are so many facets to what we do I can go in several directions, but some examples include the Meals on Wheels program, National Alliance on Mental Illness Central Georgia, the Warner Robins Houston County Houston Authority, Rebuilding Together, Habitat for Humanity and Happy Hour’s Recycled Treasures store. That’s a few.

Q: Do you fund programs completely?

A: HUD prohibits us from being the sole source, so we can’t completely fund any program or agency. We support them in part.

Q: What is your annual HUD funding like?

A: This year we’re kind of nervous because Washington was a little late due to trouble they’re having with their own budgets, but we’re getting a little increase to $576,664. We also have program administration and fair housing funds bringing the total to $726,664.

Q: What are the additional funds?

A: In the work we do we’re involved with some loans and mortgages and that’s mainly money back through those.

Q: How do agencies get funds from you?

A: Every year there’s an application process and we have an application workshop in October and invite nonprofit and profit groups. We provide funds to a lot of the same agencies year by year but it always depends on annual applications. Applications are reviewed by a committee of five individuals: one city employee, a CPA looking at financials, and other community members. They make recommendations to the mayor and council and there are public hearings where we ask what kind of projects people would like to see.

We try to spread funding as much as possible to help as many as we can. We know we are crucial to whether or not a lot of agencies and services are available in Warner Robins. We also have to submit an annual plan to HUD for review and approval. We’re accountable and everything we do has to be open and transparent. In fact, there was a HUD auditor in our office all last week for a review.

Q: It sounds like funding is basically for groups and agencies, true?

A: No, individuals, too. Like a new small grant program we’ve started for emergency repairs and code violation repairs to income and age-qualified applicants. They don’t have to have been actually cited, but it covers things that would bring homes to code.

Q: How can agencies and individuals contact you to find out more about programs and services they might qualify for?

A: Pam Mullis takes applications for what we offer and can direct people to information. She’s at 478-302-5513.

Q: You listed independent agencies you fund. Are there programs you’re more directly involved in?

A: There are, like clearance and demolition programs. The latest was in the Tabor Drive-Memorial Terrace-Ignico Drive area where we played a role in funding old, abandoned apartments being taken down. You should see the difference. It’s now a beautiful spot for some kind of economic development project. It reflects some of what we do to help eliminate slums and blight. The city had been working for years trying to take those structures down through code enforcement and related means.

Q: How many people are in your department?

A: Under Mayor (Randy) Toms’ reorganization, planning and zoning and Keep Warner Robins Beautiful fall under the community development department. There are six of us in all, plus a code enforcement officer who assists us. Soon we hope to have a receptionist as well.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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