SECIA votes to allocate loan funds to stay open


For the past two decades, the Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) has depended on funds from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program to fund community programs and improve the neighborhood’s facilities. In recent years, SECIA has felt pressured to find other sources of revenue just to stay open, due to the NRP’s 60 percent budget cut in 2001 and the economic recession.

SECIA board members and residents voted at a community meeting last week to allocate $100,000 of the neighborhood’s home revolving loan program funds – administered by the NRP – to cover the association’s staffing, pollution prevention and communications costs.

Community members say the organization will shut down in 2011 if the allocation is not approved by the NRP.

“We’d have nothing to survive on and we’d be back to having meetings and doing our work from home,” SECIA Vice President Lee Hibbard said. “But this step is a relief. We can survive; we don’t have to start firing our staff.”

If the allocation is approved by NRP Director Bob Miller – which is likely – about $60,000 will cover staffing and office costs, and $34,000 will fund economic sustainability programs.

The remaining funds will be used to maintain SECIA’s Web sites, distribute the monthly newsletter and cover other communications costs.

“To us it’s not about keeping office staff, it is about the program services we provide,” said SECIA President Wendy Menken . “Our level of communication is unique and we consider it to be of primary importance to continue.”

Menken said she is certain the proposal will be approved by Miller because SECIA has been proactively discussing the issue with the NRP and residents for two months.

NRP Neighborhood Specialist Stacy Sorenson said the allocation was unanimously approved by the community because “it was well reasoned and SECIA announced [it] early on, allowing plenty of time for any questions to be addressed.”

This is SECIA’s second allocation proposal since 2008. Last year, the organization requested $100,000 to be moved from its revolving loan program to cover staffing costs.

“This modification is common. A lot of times neighborhoods have to change their plans because they use up their resources that they had allocated,” Miller said. “[Southeast Como] is one of the neighborhoods that use their resources wisely.”

He said their proposal was “more than justified” and they were even “conservative when they identified what they thought they’d need to cover their administrative expenses.”

What about the Revolving Loan program?

Some community members have raised questions about the availability of home loan funds after the allocation, but Menken explained that the monies being used will not be taken directly from the loan program. Instead, the funds will come from loans residents repay to SECIA, leaving NRP Phase II funds untouched.

Sorenson pointed out that Southeast Como is at an advantage because it provides loans – not just grants – to residents.

“Some neighborhoods have chosen to just give grants. Smarter neighborhoods have given loans, which can generate revenue,” she said. “Southeast Como has used most of its revenue to generate more home improvement loans.”

But generating those revenues takes time, during which staff and community programs would have to be dismantled.

This is why SECIA made the proposal to cover operational costs rather than allocate the money back into the loan program.

“It was one or the other and that was a judgment call we had to make,” Menken said.