Five years ago the aging community of Morningside, just outside the main gate of Andrews Air Force Base, received a grant of $1.4 million from the Prince George's County Community Development Program to put modern drains and sidewalks along its streets.
"The streets are only 20 to 25 feet wide, and when cars are parked on both sides of the street there's only room for one car to pass at a time," said Vice Mayor Charles Kiker. "Pedestrians have to walk either in the street where it's hard-surfaced or walk up on the shoulders in -- if its happens to be raining -- the mud."
Two of the five phases of the project begun with the original grant money will be finished by this summer. When the community sought money for the remaining three phases, in November 1979, the request was denied, however. The county had decided to shift the limited federal funds available through the Community Development Block Grant Program away from expensive road-building projects.
Morningside and several other needy communities may come up losers again, in this seventh year of the program, when the county finishes dividing its annual allocation of funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The program, which has helped the county's most rundown communities repair their streets and spruce up dilapidated housing, is shifting its focus from sidewalks to economic development, especially in areas near Metro subway stations and in communities where a substantial amount of money already has been spent on housing and commercial rehabilitation.
The change in emphasis is based on a decision made last year by County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan and the County Council: to avoid capital-intensive street projects that benefit a limited number of communities.
The $6.2 million HUD program, reduced from $6.8 million last year by the Carter administration, has become an increasingly important resource for smaller towns and cities that badly need capital improvements, particularly sidewalks, curbs and storm drains. Such improvements have accounted for 59 percent of the $26.7 million budgeted since the block grant program began in 1975, but they will take only 15 percent of the proposed seventh-year budget.
The development plan, as proposed by the county for the 1981-1982 program year, for the first time will also set aside 19 percent of its funds for individual housing rehabilitation. This will benefit low- and moderate-income families outside of the Beltway Neighborhood Improvement Areas, which have received the lion's share of the federal funds in the past.
While acting to spread the benefits of the program throughout the county, the Department of Program Planning and Economic Development will concentrate other funds on completing rehabilitation projects in Neighborhood Improvement Areas where there has already been a substantial investment of federal block-grant funds. In communities such as Mount Rainier, Brentwood and Fairmont Heights, this means using the grant funds for low-interest loans and grants to improve homes that meet certain criteria of income and deterioration. In Capitol Heights and Seat Pleasant, near the new Addison Road and Capital Heights Metro stations, it means using the money to promote commercial development.
Planning staff member Donna Olson said this year's focus on development near the Addison Road and Capital Heights Metro stations, which opened last fall, will take advantage of several millions of dollars invested in streets and other public improvements in Seat Pleasant and Capital Heights.
The seventh-year program also calls for the rehabilitation of some 130 homes, at least 70 of them within the "Four Towns" (Brentwood, North Brentwood, Mount Rainier and Cottage City), and the Fairmont Heights area. Community development funds have been a source of loans and grants to rehabilitate 206 dwellings in those areas in the first six years of the program.
With the state and the county in a continuing budget bind, the leaders of many communities have become increasingly reliant on these federal funds to "deliver" improvements for their constituents. Countywide requests for new and old development projects exceeded $10 million this year, far more than the amount available.
Most of the 150 or so people who came to a public hearing before the county council last week represented the Community Development Advisory Committee, a countywide group appointed by the county executive, which has differed with the county planners on some aspects of the plan. Also present were mayors and other elected representatives of numerous small towns and cities, lobbying for more improvements in their own backyards. The plan is scheduled for a County Council vote on March 24.
Morningside Vice Mayor Kiker implored the seven council members present to put $850,000 in the Community Development budget for this town's streets.
Planning staffer Olson conceded that towns such as Morningside will have problems getting the money they need for their streets, and that many communities feel they have been treated unfairly.
"They have come to believe that "this is my money," but the bottom line is that it is the county's community development program. The municipalities only have the option to participate," said Olson.