Akron City Council approved changes to two grant programs Monday, starting the clock to apply for $280,000 in grants for community-based projects.

Akron City Council Neighborhood Partnership (ACCNP) replaces the My Neighborhood Our Akron grant, and Beyond the Table replaces the Neighborhood Partnership Program. The new versions are intended to remove barriers, streamline the application process and direct local, federal and private dollars toward projects with greater impact.

A city spokeswoman said applications for $1,000 to $8,000 grants through ACCNP — up from $250 to $1,000 before — will be live later this week on City Council's website, and Beyond the Table grants of $10,000 to $20,000 — up from $500 to $7,500 before — on the Akron Community Foundation's website.

The ACCNP application window of less than a month runs from June 17 to July 12. Questions about the ACCNP can be directed to the Clerk of Council’s Office at 330-375-2256. Director of Neighborhood Assistance John Valle said the dozen organizations that have inquired about or already applied for a 2019 My Neighborhood Our Akron grant will be mailed an application for the ACCNP program instead, and not be denied if their projects are for less than the higher dollar amount set in the new program.

Council members Margo Sommerville and Tara Samples have already announced meetings in their neighboring wards to pass out paper applications and rally constituents to take advantage of the grants.

 

Program changes

Community organizations (or residents with a nonprofit fiscal agent) no longer need to match the grant amount under ACCNP. Grants must still be matched under Beyond the Table, which funds projects in three focus areas aligned to the Akron Community Foundation's On the Table discussions: diversity, equity and social inclusion; drugs and addiction; or education and youth.

The $80,000 ACCNP program, which divides grants evenly among the city's 10 wards, is fed by the city's locally sourced general revenue fund. The $200,000 Beyond the Table program, which does not have to be divided among the wards, is funded equally by city allocations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Akron Community Foundation.

Citing a lack of enthusiasm from applicants and tougher guidelines, city administrators said council never came close to exhausting My Neighborhood Our Akron. In its four years, the program returned $227,790 of $280,000 in available grants back to the general fund, often for other expenses or to help low-income residents with public utility bills.

Councilwoman Marilyn Keith suggested that, if there's $15,000 leftover this year, it should be used to help collaborator Mac Love install art that he created with and for the community in his Knight Foundation-funded @Play project. Chief of staff James Hardy said he would consider Keith's suggestion, but he's hoping flexibility in the new rules will make for a more successful grant program.

The revamped ACCNP allows council members to give first-round approval for any project and send his or her $8,000 ward allocation to one or as many as eight awardees. Adjacent wards can even team up on $16,000 projects.

"There's no reason why we can't exhaust these funds, especially if we work together," said Samples, who asked that her name be added to the legislation offered by Sommerville and At-Large Councilman Jeff Fusco.

With Councilmen Bruce Kilby and Mike Freman absent, Councilman Russ Neal was the only one of 10 council members present to vote against the new grant programs. He had pushed for the My Neighborhood Our Akron program in 2015 and, as he did last week, raised concerns Monday about who gets to define equity in the new programs. He said three years ago his West Akron community — led by Mineola, Dorchester, Delia, Hilwood, Hartford, Forest Lodge and other block clubs — was denied a $7,500 request to put up Ward 4 banners. "Now, what's the push? To brand neighborhoods, creating unity," he said.

In the 2015 debate to create the council-led grant program, a majority of elected members rejected having the last say on who gets funding, saying they didn't want to play favorites with public funds. Under ACCNP, a panel of three council members, their clerk and three administrators will give final approval.

"The council person knows what's best in their ward," Neal said of how he would grade grant requests while maintaining integrity. "If [council members] are not doing right by their community, then they can get voted out."

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.