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State red tape causing huge delays in awarding grants to businesses hit by 2020 looting

Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* CBS 2

An Illinois state grant program is touted as a means to help businesses decimated by looting – with the money meant for immediate repairs so businesses can survive.

But two years after the launch of the program, CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov found out only a small fraction of those millions have been given out. And some of that money has been used to pay the salaries of those overseeing the program.

Kozlov met Najee Landon as she looked with despair around her Englewood company’s office space.

“The rioting and everything that happened at the summer, it really hit us hard,” Landon said. “It’s like a knife to the heart.” […]

According to the state’s own website, the whole point of the $25 million program is to “support economically distressed Illinois businesses” that were damaged “due to civil unrest.” […]

Landon qualified in the fall of 2020, ultimately being awarded $133,307,57. […]

Two years later, and Landon has only gotten a third of the grant money promised to her. She didn’t even get that until a few months ago.

Landon has used that money for approved repairs. But she calls the delay devastating, and her offices have further deteriorated.

* DCEO statement…

DCEO has made available an unprecedented amount of funding not only through COVID-19 relief funding, but also for community revitalization and support for businesses following damage due to civil unrest. DCEO takes seriously its responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and this first-of-its kind program – which uses local qualified contractors to conduct repairs and capital improvements on behalf of recipients – requires grantees to follow state contracting protocols. CNI – the organization which has been tasked with receiving applications, vetting eligibility of applicants, and managing projects where needed – is providing the funds once the qualifications are met and projects are approved. DCEO remains committed to supporting grantees and will continue to work with CNI on remaining projects.

Our state contracting protocols are a byzantine mess, and have been for years. No wonder the money isn’t getting out.

* Background from DCEO…

• Rebuild Distressed Communities distributes funds though two program administrators (CNI and LISC), which were selected through a competitive Notice of Funding Opportunity process.
• The overarching program has three capital grant components:

    1. Funding corridor improvements – grants to localities
    2. Reimbursing businesses for repairs already completed – grants to businesses
    3. Funding for new repairs for businesses – subject to state capital grant protocol; must select from list of qualified contractors
    - The third category is particularly complex because by statute, it must follow state capital grant contracting processes.

• The program requirements have remained the same since its inception.

That state statute probably needs to be changed. And soon. There are several more of these capital grant programs with money just waiting to be spent. Most small independent businesses don’t have any idea how to jump through these hoops.

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  1. - ChicagoBars - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 1:32 pm:

    You can add it to the DCEO laundry list but if I’m reading it correctly DCEO is still only looking to hire a program administrator for the $175M in hospitality relief grants that was approved last spring. The program materials suggest they will start handing out grants in late Octobe which seems really bold when you’re accepting applications for program administrator thru October 11th.

  2. - Huh? - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 1:34 pm:

    GATA website is a nightmare to navigate. Wonder how much of the problem can be attributed to GATA?

  3. - sulla - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 1:39 pm:

    We’re coming up soon on 20 years for DCEO and a cogent argument could be made that the dissolution of DCCA and creation of DCEO might have been Blagojevich’s most enduring failure. It’s got to be up there in the top three, at least.

  4. - thechampaignlife - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 1:52 pm:

    Procurement rules are in place to stop fraud. However, the direct costs to comply with the rules, the costs due to delays to acquire the needed goods and services, and the loss of competent vendors not willing to jump through the state’s hoops, likely exceed the cost of the fraud that the rules were meant to prevent. And it is not like fraud is not still happening.

    If we compare this to a big box store dealing with shoplifting, at what point are stringent security measures which turn away customers and employees worse than the shoplifting they are mean to prevent?

  5. - Derek Smalls - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 2:04 pm:

    thechampaignlife nailed it. It is the procurement version of “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”

  6. - thisjustinagain - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 4:20 pm:

    I’d act surprised, but it would take far too much effort to do it, and I’d be lying worse than Joe Isuzu ever did. Wonder how badly CNI understaffed the contract to make more money?

  7. - ChicagoBars - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 4:29 pm:

    I greatly appreciate any and all gratuitous Joe Isuzu references. Well played.

  8. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Sep 28, 22 @ 10:09 pm:

    Maybe the reason it is taking so long to pay out grant funds to this particular business is that according to the City of Chicago’s business license database, Harmony International Development, Inc. does not exist. In fact, there are no businesses licensed at 5621 S Ashland, it would appear:

    There was a business licensed at that address. That business license was applied for on July 28, 2020, over two month after the business was supposedly damaged by rioting:

    That business license listed Ms. Landon as the president, secretary and president of the organization. Two related businesses at that location are - low and behold, a different contruction company owned by a famiky member (Norvetta Landon, Conceptual Constrction) and Narvl Management (Norvetta again) and Landon Restaurant across the street. All three businesses are now closed per

    i do see them listed as a general contractor with the city, but their corporate registration with Jesse White says they are a nonprofit. That’s strange because they do not appear in any nonprofit databases, including the attorney General’s registry of nonprofits. also, theycrecently got a business license listing a single officer.

    Not a good sign.These are fraud red flags. Alot of them.

    Also not a good sign, and I am sorry if this seems nitpicky, but their website. Legit nonprofit websites have several features. The executive director’s name everywhere, because ED’s want everyone to know who is really in charge. A list of board members, because boards think they are actually in charge. A way to donate online or atleast mail a contribution. Descriptions of their programs. How to volunteer.

    The website for Harmony Development International has none of those things:

    They do not even have their own domain name. They are using gmail. The website wasnt built until 2020, according to copyright.

    You can fake a lot of things, but it is really hard to fake a nonprofit website.

    It is possible that they are just an under-resourced nonprofit, with limited professional staff. But then how does an under-resourced nonprofit own its own building near Garfield and Ashland?

    Why was $130K in damages awarded to a nonproit for a property the Cook County Assessor says is a three story apartment building worth only $95K?

    Did Dana Kozlov tour a different address?

    This is not to defend DCEO or say there are not businesses out there that need to get they money. I don’t know what documents they are being asked to provide to prove they were damaged, or that the DCEO system could not be streamlined. But if half these applicants look half as bad as this one, I can understand the delays. maybe there is an honest explanation for all of this, I sure cannot wait to hear it. Atleast in this case, I don’t think I would accuse DCEO of asking too many questions.

    Apologies for the length and late hour, there is a lot more. A ton of real estate cases in Cook County involving these individuals and their related businesses.

  9. - Betty Draper’s cigarette - Thursday, Sep 29, 22 @ 8:59 am:

    Wow. Great research Yellow Dog.

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