Credit: Kenia Torres

For the first time in several years, Santa Ana will be awarding a substantial portion of its $5.4 million Community Development Block Grant allocation this year to nonprofits serving the city’s most disadvantaged residents.

The block grants, known as CDBG funding, come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and are intended to help cities tackle the daunting challenges of poverty. They are allocated based on factors such as a city’s population, poverty rates and housing needs.

The vast majority of the money, $5 million, will go toward city services, specifically code enforcement, a $5,000 microbusiness grant program, police services for homeless people and children’s athletics, and street and park improvements, particularly the Pacific Electric Park Improvement project, among other things.

In the past, leaders in Santa Ana, where more than one in five residents live below the poverty line, awarded a portion of the city’s grant allocation to nonprofits. The program’s rules allow up to 15 percent to be doled out to nonprofits for public services.

But in recent years officials have used the city’s entire CDBG allocation to plug multi-million dollar budget gaps that at one point nearly pushed the city into municipal bankruptcy.

Tuesday, Santa Ana City Council members restored the previous tradition by voting to award over $400,000 in grant funds to 10 nonprofits. The awardees were those given the highest scores by the city’s Community Redevelopment and Housing Commission out of a pool of 35 applicants, according to a staff report.

The city at one point had $1 million it would allocate to nonprofits, and the competition for funding awards was fierce, said Councilman Vincent Sarmiento. However, the funding has dropped in recent years.

The city’s general fund will cover city services that the grant allocation had previously funded.

Council members David Benavides and Roman Reyna recused themselves from the vote, citing conflicts of interest due to their working relationships with certain applicants. Benavides was recently appointed executive director of KidWorks Community Development Corporation, which received $56,000. It’s unclear which nonprofit has a relationship with Reyna.

Meanwhile, Sarmiento requested that Goodwill and the Illumination Foundation also receive funding. City Manager David Cavazos said he would bring back to the council in two weeks an allocation totaling $80,000 for the two nonprofits.

Even if some nonprofit services are “duplicative,” they are crucial for Santa Ana’s underserved population, Sarmiento said.

“For our community, there’s never enough services,” he said.

Here’s a full list of the grant awardees and a brief description of what the funding will be used for, per the council meeting agenda staff report:

Orange County Fair Housing Council, Inc. dba Fair Housing Council of OC – $67,000

Funding will be used to provide “fair housing enforcement, community education, landlord/tenant counseling/mediation and city administrative support for the residents of Santa Ana.”

KidWorks Community Development Corporation – $56,000

KidWorks under its University Starts Now and 360 Diversion’s programs will provide “homework help, tutoring… mentoring, and leadership development for children and youth.” The programs will also offer mental health counseling and lessons for families to “improve their knowledge and awareness of post-secondary education.”

America On Track – $30,000

Funding will go toward services for low-income children of prisoners, including “parenting with a mentor,” Science, technology, engineering and math workshops and a “College is For Me Too! Camp.”

Council on Aging – Orange County – $35,350

Funding will be used for “a coordinated approach to identify and enroll Medicare eligible low-income seniors and adults living with disabilities in critically important benefit programs.”

WISEPlace – $30,000

The Steps to Independence Program will “transition homeless single women to independence by providing shelter, food, case management, employment assistance and medical referrals.”

Human Options – $30,000

The Safe Dates, Families for Safe Dates and Hands Are Not For Hitting programs will provide psycho-education in English and Spanish to children and parents aimed at preventing abuse in youth dating, anger management and bullying.

The Cambodian Family — $45,000

The Plan Ahead Youth program “will provide Santa Ana’s low-income youths and parents from immigrant families with academics, healthy education, leadership development and career exploration services.”

Public Law Center — $33,750

Funding will go toward “legal assistance and education” for low-income residents “who live in poorly operated and maintained mobile homes and apartments.” The money will also be used to “advocate for better operations and conditions.”

Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana – $50,000

The IMPACT Model – Summer Program “provides summer educational and enrichment programming to low-income children ages 6 – 13 at six sites throughout Santa Ana.”

Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center – $30,000

Funding will go toward an after-school music program to teach students “how to play a string or woodwind instrument, engage in musical ensembles and perform in community events throughout the year.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

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