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State of Nevada, local governments, race to spend funds by deadline


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau:  Nevada officials are racing the clock to get their full share of federal foreclosure relief dollars.

Some states and local governments elsewhere around the country are at risk of losing millions in foreclosure relief funds. But officials with the state of Nevada and local government entities who are managing the programs say they are on track to obligate their full allotments by September deadlines.

Even so, several Nevada officials said the funds are only a drop in the bucket to address Nevada’s foreclosure crisis.

States and local governments around the country face the deadlines to obligate their share of funding from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The program started in March 2009 and entities receiving funds have 18 months to use or lose the funds. Deadlines vary by a day or two depending on when agreements were signed but they are coming up next month.

Money that is not expended by the deadline will be returned to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for use in the third phase of the program, which recently saw another $1 billion of funding authorized.

USA Today reported last week some states and local governments are having a difficult time obligating their share of funds.

But that does not appear to be the case in Nevada. The city of Las Vegas has the most unobligated funds remaining, about 20 percent as of the end of July, but a city official said every effort is being made to ensure the money is spent.

Dr. Hilary Lopez, chief of federal programs for the Nevada Housing Division, said the state received $24.2 million from HUD for the program. The state’s deadline to obligate the funds is Sept. 11.

“And we actually feel very confident that prior to Sept. 11 we will probably have 100 percent of our funds obligated,” Lopez said. “If not, then by Sept. 11 we would meet that requirement.”

Several Nevada officials acknowledged the program got off to a slow start. They also acknowledge it has provided only limited help in Nevada, where the foreclosure rate remained the highest in the nation in the first half of 2010.

“It was slow getting up and running on that and getting the program going because it was brand new,” said Kristen Cooper, principal planner for Clark County. “When you have a brand new program it can take some time to work out the kinks and in this case just figure out what the rules were, really.”

Cooper said the county is in great shape now, with 100 percent of its $8 million state allocation obligated and at least 96 percent of its $22.8 million in direct federal funding obligated.

The county has 160 properties either purchased or in escrow and another 16 still being sought through the program.

But the program is just a “drop in the bucket,” she said.

“It benefits real people, and real families and real neighborhoods, but it’s not enough,” Cooper said.

Douglas Kuntz, the official in charge of the program in Henderson, said the city’s program started out slow as well. But the $4 million provided to the city through state and federal allocations is all obligated, he said.

“Our total is a little over 30 properties and we’re looking to purchase three more,” Kuntz said. “We’re looking forward to more funding.”

While the program has not made a significant dent in the foreclosure crisis, the city was able to target certain census tracts for the funds and so it has made a difference in those neighborhoods, he said.

City of Las Vegas spokeswoman Diana Paul said that as of July 28, the city has spent or obligated 81 percent of its nearly $15 million direct allocation for the program. The city has also spent or obligated 80 percent of the nearly $6 million allocated to the city through the state program.

“We are doing our due diligence to make sure all the money has been spent prior to or by the deadline,” she said.

Lopez said the state program didn’t get going until a task force put together by Gov. Jim Gibbons was able to meet and determine which communities would be eligible for the funding, and in what amounts. The task force continues to meet to oversee the program, which involves several communities from Washoe to Nye and Clark County, she said.

The state program is seeing funds used both for the acquisition of foreclosed and abandoned properties for rehabilitation which are then either resold or rented to eligible households and for direct down payment assistance to eligible households to purchase property.

The program has involved all single-family homes, Lopez said.

A total of 142 units are part of the property acquisition part of the program in Washoe, Douglas, Lyon, Nye and Clark counties. Another 62 units are part of the down-payment assistance part of the program, according to information provided by the state Housing Division.


Audio clips:

State official Dr. Hilary Lopez says she expects all the money to be obligated by a Sept. 11 deadline:

080210Lopez1 :15 meet that requirement.”

Lopez says the state and local agencies have worked to ensure all the money is put to use:

080210Lopez2 :17 is all utilized.”

Kristin Cooper of Clark County said the program started slow because it was new:

080210Cooper1 :21 rules were, really.”

Cooper said the program has been a help but more assistance is needed:

080210Cooper2 :24 that is needed.”

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