Baltimore neighborhood representatives last night asked the Department of Housing and Community Development to create a citizen advisory panel to review applications for next year's $27.8 million Community Development Block Grants.
The community leaders, members of the Save Our Cities grass-roots coalition, made their recommendation at a public hearing on the 1994 federal grants. City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said he would consider the request.
About 175 people attended the hearing at City Hall to outline wish lists for the grants under a program created 19 years ago for urban renewal and to create jobs.
The meeting was the first of two on next year's block grant funds -- the second is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 14, when city officials willannounce their recommendations.
Ideas about how neighborhoods would spend the federal grants flowed throughout the evening.
Rosellen McDavid, an organizer for the Coppin Heights Community Association, said the No. 1 issue in her neighborhood is the need for jobs.
"People on the street are desperately in need of jobs. And many single mothers are in need of day care," Ms. McDavid said. "Coppin Heights used to be such a lovely neighborhood, and in the last 10 years it has gone down."
Ann Sherrill, of Action for the Homeless, described the need for the funds to be used for job training, housing and assistance for mentally ill homeless people.
Barbara McKinney, a resident of the Lexington Terrace public housing high-rise, said her community needs a supermarket and suggested using grant money to build it.
The Save Our Cities group also asked that city housing officials develop a formal application process for the grants that includes written instructions. Many proposals are only submitted in letter form though there is a four-page federal application form that must be filled out if the proposal is accepted by city officials.
Most of those who testified wore yellow badges saying "Support an open CDBG process."
Mr. Henson, who was appointed in March, assured the audience that their ideas would not be excluded from the process.
He said earlier this week that his department would not "actively or aggressively solicit proposals for the amount of funds available" because the city has already received proposals that total nearly $100 million for the $27.8 million award.
The city has received $530 million in block grant funding since the program was started.
Last year, the city's award was $25.4 million.
Department of Housing and Urban Development audits -- conducted over the past few years -- have been critical of city housing officials for not always spending block grant money to eliminate urban blight.
City officials have also come under fire for failing to spend the block grant money fast enough -- the city currently has a backlog of $35 million in unspent block grant money, HUD officials said.
That money has been earmarked for such projects as buying and renovating vacant buildings, renovating playgrounds and beautifying city streets.