Small Cities Development Program Sets the Stage for Downtown Buffalo's First Rooftop Solar
“Old places support a sound, sustainable and vibrant economy that also fulfills deeper human needs of continuity, identity, belonging, and beauty.” - Why Do Old Places Matter
If you've ever owned a historic building, you know that it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to upkeep. That is why we have been incredibly grateful to take part in SMDP: (Small Cities Development Program) for our 1902 commercial building rehabilitation project. This project targets historic downtown area commercial and residential projects.
Funds for the program are provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
But we worked directly with Dustin Switters at the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, Inc. to scope our project and receive grant funds. This is possible thanks to the City of Buffalo’s (shoutout to Messina) application and acceptance into the program. Dustin helped us along the entire process (outlined below) and kept us on track!
General steps within the program are facilitated by CMHP:
1. Initial project submission and conditional acceptance
2. Submit due diligence documents
3. Get an initial approval letter
4. Complete an inspection of the property with you to discuss the proposed project
5. Scope of Work
6. Partnering Contractors List/Contractor Selection Form
7. Conduct the bidding process
8. Complete construction documents (construction contract & repayment agreements)
10. Final inspection, recording documents, completion certificate.
Our original project scope included the following:
A. Reinstating a window and garage door original to the building (warehouse addition), which filled in we believe sometime in the 90s, perhaps earlier.
B. Repairing our roof nearing the end of its life to prepare for solar panel installation.
Project outcome: We completed Project B (roof repair) over the summer. Now we are moving forward with our roof-top solar project, hurrah! Project A (windows and doors) was unfortunately not grant-possible for us and we ended up paying for this project out of pocket after months of trying to secure a contractor bid.
According to feedback from contractors, the required paperwork and general grant stipulations (primarily the prevailing wage and licensed contractor requirements) of the SCDP grant program were unattractive. Combined with the skill and contractor shortage (2022) for redevelopment projects, these ‘hoops’ were simply unnecessary for most contractors to deal with unless working on a larger ($) project. Additionally, many local contractors subcontract out minor and major parts of their job, adding to the perceived cost and paperwork.
Perhaps relieving some of the grant requirements would make this more attractive to local contractors to bid on smaller projects and attract crew with a higher wage.
We ended up piecing together a few specialized contractors (demolition, garage door/window, concrete installer, which made it much more cost-effective (within our reach financially) than using a larger general contracting firm. We contracted a larger regional engineering firm to create our project plans and also asked them to bid on the project using their contractor network, but they declined and rather encouraged us to secure our own contractors (I largely assume) to keep project costs within reach.
However, all was not lost, we were able to utilize Buffalo's Facade Grant made possible through the Buffalo Housing & Redevelopment Authority to supplement Project A's (windows and doors) costs after completion, and we are super grateful for the flexibility this grant provided.
For Project B, we also experienced challenges securing a roofing company due to the smaller project size (½ new roof or about 3,000 sf), but at the last minute The Bison Networking Group, which meets every Wednesday at OutDo Work, had a member on a roofing company, NexGen Exteriors, that pulled through for us. We are grateful that this worked out, and that we were able to use the grant that 100% made this project possible.
We also fully support the idea of prevailing wages that the SCDP grant requires to support paying the workers their fair share.
Are you interested in securing grant funds, or do you want to learn more about this program?
Read my Q&A below with Dustin Switters, Program Manager at Central Minnesota Housing Partnership who was absolutely great to work with and helped us navigate the entire program process from start to finish.
Is it possible for local people to secure this grant, or is it a one-time thing?
Dustin: We accept applications for the program on a first-come, first-serve basis. Participation is dependent on building and business eligibility. The City of Buffalo received the SCDP grant for Commercial and Owner-Occupied rehabilitation activities. We have reached our limit on commercial properties, but still have funds remaining for about 4 more Owner-Occupied home projects (as of March 2023). Eligibility for Owner-Occupied projects Is determined by location (city-determined target areas) and income. It is a one-time thing, in the sense that the City of Buffalo would have to apply for the SCDP grant again to gain funding for another round of projects.
Is this the best call-to-action to contact you - or do you have a way for people to express interest in the program if not available to them, currently?
Dustin: People interested can definitely contact me by phone or email. For some additional information, our website can also be a resource (cmhp.net). In cities that are not currently administering the Small Cities Development Program, a citizen can contact their city officials to show interest and encourage them to participate in the program or participate again, as in Buffalo’s case.
We work directly with the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, Inc. to scope our project and receive grant funds. This is made possible thanks to our city's acceptance into the program (who is responsible for this??).
Dustin: Ultimately, the city is responsible for its own acceptance into the Small Cities program. CMHP works as an administrator for the city. They come to us and we put together applications and paperwork for DEED & HUD, we guide the city through the process and also deal with the paperwork and active projects once the program is on-going. I believe CMHP’s former program manager Messina Owings was responsible for the initial leg work and the beginning of the program in Buffalo.
Do you have a commercial building that you are interested in securing grant funds for, or do you want to learn more about this program?
Dustin: There is always a possibility of a commercial building owner not using all of the funds available to them or someone dropping out of the program, but currently, all available funds are spoken for in the Commercial activity. However, as I mentioned before, we do still have funding available for a handful of Owner-Occupied homes in Buffalo, pending eligibility.
If there are any other questions or information you are curious about, please feel free to reach out. I enjoy discussing the benefits of the program.
Program Manager, Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, Inc.
Direct Phone: (320) 258-0681
Dswitters @ cmhp.net
Amanda: Overall, while there is always improvement available, we think that this program and other local grant programs are amazing assets to the community, incentivizing historic building owners to invest in their properties—while preserving our history and promoting a sense of place. Thank you to the City of Buffalo for applying to this program.
Read more about Why Old Places Matter, here.