by Sandi Burtseva
In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $16,634,702 in federal disaster relief money to for Tuscaloosa, Ala. The city is receiving the money through the community development block grant - disaster relief program (CDBG-DR) in the wake of a devastating mile-wide tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in April 2011, killing 52 people, and creating a 5.9-mile path of destruction.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox called the funding a "tremendous step" in the city's recovery from the storms.
"I think [the CDBG-DR funding] is a commitment by the federal government and by HUD in particular to make the type of investment we need for a long-term recovery," Maddox said.
The CDBG-DR funds can be used for the acquisition of property, economic development, housing, infrastructure, social services, and administrative activities and planning.
Mayor Maddox has identified three primary areas where the funding would be allocated in the tornado recovery zones - housing, infrastructure and the leveraging funds to match other federal and social service agency grants.
In September 2011, the Tuscaloosa City Council unanimously adopted the Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Rebuilding Plan, which goes beyond simple rebuilding and recovery to present a forward-looking vision for land use, sustainability, housing and infrastructure in Tuscaloosa. The plan presents a unified community vision, seeking to ensure that city leaders, the private sector and residents work together toward a common goal.
HUD Southeast Regional Administrator Ed Jennings, Jr. called the plan a "new generation mentality of what this community can be going forward."
In mid-March, Mayor Maddox plans to recommend "broad parameters" to the city council to use the funds for housing, infrastructure and development projects. Both the city and HUD staff, who will be administering the CDBG-DR monies, will review the plans before the funds are used.
HUD is distributing a total of $400 million in CDBG-DR funding to states, counties and cities impacted by natural disasters in 2011. Alabama will receive $55 million for long-term disaster recovery, including the $16.6 million for Tuscaloosa, $7.8 million for Jefferson County and $6.4 million for the City of Birmingham. The remaining money will be allocated by the state of Alabama.