NORWALK, Conn. — The competition is heating up for a new Norwalk-area anti-poverty agency. In addition to the two known contenders looking to replace the defunct Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, the Norwalk Housing Authority plans to throw its hat into the ring.
NHA hopes to have an application in Monday, one day before the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) deadline, NHA Executive Director Curtis Law said Wednesday.
“We think it’s a good move. One thing we know, if we don’t apply we won’t get it. So I always go into it thinking we are going to be successful,” Law said.
DSS put out a Request for Qualifications for a new Community Action Agency on March 3, with an April 21 deadline for responses. The contract would run from May 25 to Sept. 30, 2016. The new agency would serve New Canaan, Norwalk, Weston, Westport and Wilton. To qualify, an organization “must currently provide services to low-income persons located in the Greater Norwalk catchment area or that is contiguous to the catchment area,” the RFQ said.
An optional letter of intent was due last Friday. A DSS spokesman has not yet provided information about who might have responded.
An NHA representative attended the bidders conference held March 24 in City Hall, according to a transcript on the DSS website. The Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut, formerly Community Action Committee of Danbury (CACD), had two representatives there. A group led by the Rev. Lindsay Curtis has also expressed interest.
A new agency must be operational on July 1, Connecticut Office of Community Services Public Assistance Consultant Cassandra Norfleet-Johnson said at the bidders conference, according to the transcript.
“So what do you mean by ‘operating’?” Stuart Goosman of NHA asked. “That’s a lot. It’s a lot to do by July. So when you say operate,’ are you fully operational?”
Norfleet-Johnson explained that the new agency must be able to offer the services outlined in the RFQ by July 1.
“So that’s why when the Department asks a question tied to organizational capacity, and they ask about your brief history in, you know, providing services to low-income people, are you an entity that only has the experience of providing one service, or are you an entity that are able to provide a lot of services?” Norfleet-Johnson said.
Organizational capacity includes managing federal dollars, she said.
There were no questions asked by anyone associated with Curtis, according to the transcript.
Law said Wednesday that he’s excited about applying.
“I think if one thinks about it, many of the clients that they serve, we serve here,” Law said. “I think it would provide a holistic one-stop shopping in terms of what we provide. We’re all in the business of providing services to low- and moderate-income families and so we think it would be good.”
He didn’t want to discuss the possibility of using the upper half of 98 South Main St. as a base of operations if NHA is successful.
The status of the city-owned building is still unknown as NEON’s bankruptcy proceedings drag on.
Rather, Law said, NHA would likely use office space it is lining up to use as part of the Choice Neighborhood Initiative grant.
A source said a Water Street location is being considered. Law confirmed that.
“I think temporarily we would probably locate in those offices unless we found another building or something ever happened to South Main Street, but that would be a nice problem to have, where we are going to house it,” Law said.
He’d love it if the Housing Authority won the contract, he said.
“As other agencies, we are concerned about how we can move people up and out. Self-sufficiency is the name of the game, education services. Keeps the old bones – keeps me excited,” Law said.
The source suggested Law was looking to retire last summer, but was encouraged to stay in the game.
“I’m always going to retire. There’s always one more mountain to climb; I’m like an old gunfighter,” Law said.
DSS says it has $869,008 to fund the agency, but some observers question the long-term viability of this plan as Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed to eliminate the Human Services Infrastructure (HSI) funding from the state’s 2016-17 budget.
Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut Executive Director Michelle James asked about this at the bidders conference.
“That was actually taken into consideration with the actual funding sources that are actually done,” Norfleet-Johnson said.
There are federal dollars available and other funding sources, she said.
DSS has a written response to the questions on its website:
“State Human Services Infrastructure (HSI) monies are one (1) of three (3) funding streams identified in this procurement. If State HSI is eliminated, the Department will fund procurement at a lesser amount that would include federal monies only. Section 1.A.3. Contract Offers identifies the 3 funding streams. (See Page 4 of RFQ).
“Under the HSI funding source, the breakout is as follows:
Type of funding Allocation
State HSI -SFY 2015 $255,546.00
Federal HSI – FFY 2015 $87,279.00
Federal HSI – FFY 2016 $87,279.00
This is also spelled out in the RFQ:
“In addition to CSBG (Community Services Block Grant) funding, each CAA receives an allocation from the state’s HSI program. For State Fiscal Year 2015, Greater Norwalk catchment’s share of HSI funding is $255,546.00. Please note that these funds are one-time funding and all costs must be incurred no later than June 10, 2015. For Federal Fiscal Year 2015, Greater Norwalk catchment’s share of federal –HSI funding is $87,279.00. For Federal Fiscal Year 2016, Greater Norwalk catchment’s share of federal – HSI funding is $87,279.00. Federal HSI funding is $87,279.00 annually.”