The City of Conway is looking to its citizens for input on how to spend Community Development Block Grant funds in the amount of about $500,000 annually for the next five years.

"The Community Development Block Grant is designed to improve housing, livability and economic opportunities for low-to-moderate income people," said Community Development Director Lauralee Wilcox McCool. McCool said it is up to the citizens to prioritize how the city accomplishes those goals.

Conway is one of 14 entitlement cities to receive block grant funds given to larger cities and to each state for distribution to smaller cities and counties under the Housing and Urban Development Department of the federal government. 

One requirement of securing an entitlement includes the development of a five-year consolidated plan outlining the uses of the grant.

"The goal is to create safe, affordable housing for those who are unable to do so for themselves," Conway Mayor Tab Townsell said. "At the same time, there is flexibility in the program to allow for infrastructure and economic development opportunities, childcare, healthcare -— several elements that improve the lives of our citizens." 

The consolidated plan process includes an Action Plan, outlining the projects and budget for 2011, and an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing.

McCool said the analysis of impediments is nearly complete.

"The AI looks at issues regarding discrimination in housing, such as that done by lenders or landlords," McCool said.  "Our initial research showed a lack of education in how to file complaints rather than any discrimination." 

As a means of collecting data, city officials have turned to the internet in the form of an ongoing housing and community development survey, the preliminary results of which were discussed on Tuesday morning in a public meeting at the Russell L. "Jack" Roberts District Court Building.

Robert Gaudin, director of research and planning at Western Economic Services, LLC, told audience members the findings were based on the answers of 140 survey participants.

"To say (you’re doing) pretty good in Conway is being modest," Gaudin said. "You have no idea how good you have it."

Gaudin reported that when asked how they would allocate resources, 27.2 percent of the participants responded they would invest the funds on improvements to the city’s infrastructure.

In order of importance, economic development, public facilities, human services and housing followed behind.

"I’m amazed at some of these numbers," said Kittie Aaron, executive director of the Conway Interfaith Clinic. "It sounds like a lot of people don’t believe that there is poverty in Conway, Ark."

Patricia Hoskins, executive director with Habitat for Humanity of Faulkner County, agreed. 

"I feel like there’s a larger percentage of people that this survey doesn’t represent," Hoskins said.

Gaudin said the survey would remain open until Sept. 12. 

Those interested in participating may do so by visiting www.surveymonkey.com/s/TGH3J77, or by going to www.cityofconway.org and clicking on "Housing and Community Development Survey."

The final presentation for the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 21.

The final presentation for the Consolidated Plan will be at 10 a.m. Oct. 14.  

The public is encouraged to attend all sessions, to be held at the Russell L. "Jack" Roberts District Court Building at 801 Parkway Street in Conway.  

Those needing accommodations should call McCool at 501-513-3570.

(Staff writer Megan Reynolds can be reached by e-mail at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net, or by phone at (501)505-1277. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net)