For Mission natives Roberto E. Villarreal and Hector Martinez, the homes the City of Mission built for them using federally funded Community Development Block Grants are the best they’ve ever lived in.
In 2015 the city demolished the home Martinez’s late father, Eleuterio, first purchased in the 1950s in the Madero subdivision on the city’s south side after it became too dilapidated to repair.
“The old house the roof leaked, it was wood framed, uninsulated and leaning to one side,” Martinez, 48, said Wednesday recalling the house he moved into with his father in 2010 after medical issues hospitalized the younger Martinez for nearly a year and he was forced into medical retirement from his job as a certified dialysis technician. “The floors were uneven and the kitchen floor was sinking into the ground.”
Martinez said in the winter cold air would filter into the home through the uninsulated wooden floor and his only means of heating the house was with the 40- year-old gas oven and stove that were emitting unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. He said it also had “shoddy plumbing” and was so drafty he could barely keep it cool in the summer with the single window air conditioner.
Living on a fixed income of about $1,400 a month, Martinez said without the city’s help he never could have afforded to upgrade his old home or purchase a new one.
Like Martinez, the home in which 72-year-old retired deliveryman, Villarreal, resided in the 100 block of South Nicholson Street was beyond repair so last year the city demolished it and built him a new 970-square-foot brick and block home with central heating and air conditioning, something he’d never experienced in his life, he said. Villarreal, who survives on about $940 in monthly Social Security benefits, said without the city’s help he could have never afforded to upgrade the failing home he purchased in 1971 for $11,000 and which was becoming nearly intolerable to live in.
“I sleep great now because it’s not too hot or too cold like it was in the old house,” Villarreal said
“It’s a blessing how they help the community out like this, especially for the elderly,” said Villarreal’s daughter, Dora, 51, who has lived with her father off and on her entire life.
Martinez and Villareal are among approximately 425 MISSION residents whose homes have either been refurbished or replaced since 1998 using CBDG grants, said Mission City Manager Martin Garza. Last year the city assisted 22 home owners with CDBG funding, he said.
Jo Anne Longoria is Mission’s Community Development Director who oversees the city’s $904,000 CDBG budget. Besides providing housing to the economically disadvantaged she said about 10 percent of the CDBG budget goes to public service agencies such as Amigos del Valle, a non-profit that assists low income persons with a focus on the elderly, the Children’s Advocacy Center, an agency dedicated to promoting awareness and providing resources for children and families affected by abuse and neglect; Easter Seals, the Area Agency on Aging, the Salvation Army and Silver Ribbon Community Partners, a non-profit United Way Agency whose mission is to provide education, additional resources, products, tools and support services necessary to help prevent elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“In September of last year we reported over 300 people received services from these agencies,” Longoria said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “So we are providing the benefits that we need to provide for our residents. We need more money, actually.”
Longoria said each year the city receives requests for about $2 million in services but only receives federal funding to fulfill about half the requests.
Earlier this month Democratic U. S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who represents Texas’ 28th District, was among members of the House Appropriations Committee who sounded the alarm to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that would eliminate the CDBG grants along with hundreds of millions of dollars is social service programs.
The CDBG distributes $3 billion annually to more than 400 communities nationwide, said Vickie Watson, director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Community Development Association which represents those communities receiving CDBG funding.
“We don’t have any contingency plans,” Watson said in a telephone interview Tuesday when asked what would happen if Congress passes Trump’s proposed cuts. “If the program goes away there is no other money that’s going to make up for it. Some local governments may be able to make up for some of the services but this is very devastating.”
On Wednesday Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas said he understands Trump is trying to reduce the nation’s $19 trillion budget deficit but said if Trump is successful in eliminating the CDBG program the city would more than likely compensate for the loss by tapping into the city’s general fund which as of Sept. 30, 2016 had a balance of $7.36 million.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t want him to cut [the federal budget] but if we have to subsidize some programs with our money I’d rather see that and let them do their job trying to get rid of the $19 trillion national debt,” Salinas said. “I don’t see Mission having any problem if he were to cut some of those programs.”
Meanwhile the NCDA’s Watson said her organization is mobilizing a nationwide effort to stop the funding cuts with letter writing campaigns and asking citizens to contact their Congressman.
“We’re doing all we can to generate local support” to fight the cuts, Watson said.
As for Martinez he has his own message for Trump about eliminating the CDBG.