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November 13, 2013

Generating Board Sympathy


They flee horrific circumstances, finding refuge in the shelter. And when the lights go out, residents of The Retreat's domestic violence shelter have much more to worry about than the average person wondering how to cook food or heat his house for a night.

Every time the electricity goes out, security at the shelter is "dangerously compromised" for each woman "wearing a target on her back," shelter director Minerva Perez told the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday night. Shelter residents can't go to typical storm shelters during power outages because of the danger it poses.

The shelter needs a $35,000 generator to make sure security cameras and the electronic gate, plus the emergency hotline stay in service during electrical outages. The trouble is, Perez told the town board, county officials administering Federal Community Development Block Grants say such a system is not eligible for funding.

Adopted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1974, the CDBG program provides financial resources to communities to address an array of needs. East Hampton is slated to receive over $100K, subject to Congressional approval. In the past the grants have been used for such projects as new bathrooms or kitchen cabinets at the Windmill Village Housing complex.

By law, each year the town board holds a public hearing about the program, bringing an array of representatives from social services agencies to the podium with requests.

Following Perez' entreaty, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley suggested involved attorneys use "tactical reasoning" to argue for including the generators. "I think that argument should be hard fought," she said.

Tom Ruhle, the town's director of housing, said he's not taking 'No' for an answer and plans to make the case directly to HUD officials. In addition to The Retreat, Windmill Village and the new St. Michael's senior housing projects have asked for generators, too. Seniors in those complexes need back up systems during power outages as well, he said.

The Suffolk County Community Development Office administers the CDBG program. Officials there determined that generators don't meet the criteria for the federal funding. Eligible activities include housing rehabilitation, elimination of physical barriers to the handicapped, and neighborhood improvement programs. According to the HUD website, "The CDBG program works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses."

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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