Cash-strapped nonprofit asks city for financial aid

Jul. 18, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

As Katasha Woods unlocked the door of her new home on St. James Way in Sanford, her daughter Taylor, 10, looked on with excitement. They both felt many emotions all at once — happiness, accomplishment and gratitude to name a few.

For the past two years, Woods had been saving up money so that she could buy her first home. Hers is one of 10 houses Brick Capital Community Development Corporation has filled in the neighborhood, and Katasha managed to keep the house a secret from Taylor until they pulled into the driveway on Wednesday.

“I like it here,” Taylor exclaimed as she explored her new home. “I’m just excited. I get to help decorate, right?”

Brick Capital, a nonprofit organization focused on providing affordable housing for low-income residents in Sanford and Lee County, has operated for more than 20 years without government assistance. But recent changes enacted by the state legislature have created financial difficulties for the organization.

Representatives from Brick Capital asked the Sanford City Council for $200,000 to cover the nonprofit’s operational expenses during the council’s meeting Tuesday.

The council recently approved $7,500 to help fund a financial assessment of the organization, and the assessment is in progress.

“[The assessment] is happening, and it is under way,” said Brick Capital Executive Director Kate Rumely. “But the assessment doesn’t solve the problem of the fact that we need to cover our operational expenses for the year.”

Brick Capital has been facing financial hardships since the state government cut funding to a number of community development corporations last year.

“The public needs to understand this is not mismanagement or misuse of funds,” Sanford Mayor Chet Mann said of Brick Capital’s financial situation. “This is an organization that relied on state grants for 20 years that were just ripped out from under them without much warning.”

Mann said Brick Capital’s situation is probably the most difficult issue he has dealt with since taking office, and that is it one of the most important issues facing the community.

“And there’s not a clear answer,” he said. “The work of Brick Capital is extremely vital. Its been extremely important, and they’ve done an outstanding job. The problem we face is the business proposition of how we sustain this model and how we justify the funds for it.”

Councilman Charles Taylor raised a number of concerns he had with the funding request, given that the assessment had not yet been completed. Taylor asked about the impetus behind asking for $200,000, which he considered an exceedingly large sum.

“Why $200,000?” Rumely said. “For the last six months, and even longer, Brick Capital has been down to two people. ... Both of us have worked more hours than you can imagine trying to keep things running. I can’t do all the work myself. We need a housing counselor. We need someone to come in and be trained in what makes Brick Capital run. ... The $200,000 would allow us to have one more of those persons.”

Rumely said the money also would also be used to pay salaries to her and Connie Morgan, Brick Capital’s fiscal officer.

As far as waiting until after the assessment was completed, Rumely said the organization simply did not have the funds to wait, and that it was scraping the bottom of the barrel as it was.

Taylor also took issue with how the council would be able to justify providing $200,000 to Brick Capital when a number of other nonprofits also were struggling.

“How do we approach this from your perspective when we’ve got other nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity that do wonderful work in our community?” he said. “Who’s to say one is more important than the other? At the end of the day, both of them are very important.”

Brick Capital President Margaret Murchison outlined what made Brick Capital different in a statement to the council, saying the city was mandated to provide affordable housing to low-income citizens, and that Brick Capital had been the primary provider of such housing for more than 20 years.

“Affordable housing is one of the city’s most important assets,” Murchison said. “As the economy continues to improve, and as the city’s working class housing stock deteriorates, no organization is more capable and ready than Brick Capital CDC to serve the city and take care of its housing needs and assets. Affordable housing is essential to economic development.”

Councilwoman Rebecca Wyhof said she thought the council should hold further discussion on Brick Capital, and that the needs of Sanford’s citizens must be addressed.

The council voted to hold a special work session on Brick Capital at 5 p.m. on July 30.

Mann said there would be no easy answers to the problems facing the nonprofit.

“We need to find solutions,” he said, “alternatives, to help them cope with a significantly changed landscape.”