‘That’s not us anymore’ says Gulfcoast Legal Services in response to city pulling funding

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Gulfcoast Legal Services Executive Director Tammy Greer said the city of Bradenton’s decision to not fund the nonprofit with Community Development Block Grant funding this year “is incredibly unfair.”

The city voted to pull $10,000 in funding last month, with officials claiming Gulfcoast was not doing its job and was in noncompliance with requirements to ensure those being served were truly low-income individuals.

Vicki White, the city’s housing and community development manager, said Gulfcoast is required to provide six months verifiable income before using city CDBG dollars, but Greer said it’s a city requirement, not a requirement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“They’ve been funding us for years and this is the first time she monitored us,” said Greer, who took over an agency entrenched in turmoil in January of 2018 and has been trying to right the ship ever since.

“We have four different CDBG grants and each agency requires a different level of documentation,” Greer said. “Clearwater and Largo require one month, Manatee County requires two months and now Bradenton is telling us six months, but they didn’t tell us this until April. How can you say we are not doing our job? They are just not reimbursing us for the job we are doing because of rules they imposed.”

Greer said the agency has been through a lot over the years, “and we are doing our dead level best to serve the community.”

The city has drastically cut funding over the past three years, funding the agency $34,000 three years ago, $22,000 two years ago and $10,000 this past fiscal year.

“The city council needs to understand that we will not have any way to provide them any services if they come in with a housing problem,” Greer said. “We don’t mind getting the documentation and we are more than happy to comply. We just have to be really clear and they have to tell us and we will work that out.”

Six months of documentation is not easy to come by, especially because a lot of clients come in mere days before eviction notices go into effect.

“Also, we have many clients who are elderly, disabled, uneducated, traumatized, or basically unable to gather a bunch of documents quickly — especially when they are frazzled and facing possible homelessness,” Greer said. “We are desperately seeking less restrictive funding to be able to assist these clients who cannot produce more than a pay stub.”

Greer said often, those pay stubs show an income as much as 250 percent below the poverty level and nothing in the bank.

“If you show us you are making 150 percent below the poverty level and don’t have any money in your account, we are going to take you,” Greer said. “All I care about is that the client gets services. And our attorneys aren’t getting rich here. They are here because they genuinely care about our community.”

Greer said if it turns out that they serve a client in need who doesn’t qualify to use CDBG funds, then they essentially eat the costs.

“So to say that we are not doing our job is inaccurate,” she said. “To say that we are spending the city’s money, but not doing the work is also untrue. Frankly, the opposite is true. We are doing the work, but not spending the money. We stand ready to do whatever is necessary to prove our operational certainty to the city of Bradenton and Manatee County.”

White told the city council that Manatee County staff would not recommend funding Gulfcoast this year either, but the county commissioners haven’t made that decision yet and staff never confirmed what the recommendation would be. Greer said in the little over a year she’s been there, she’s been able to double the staff and refocus the agency to serve its purpose.

The agency did not have a high rating from nonprofit observers like Charity Navigator, which gave the agency low marks in terms of transparency. Charity Navigator cited that Gulfcoast did not post its IRS financial information on its website. Greer has since rectified that situation and told the Bradenton Herald that information was relayed to Charity Navigator, “but they don’t update their website until May 1.”

“I really do want to be transparent and if you look at the financials, you’ll see we have nothing to hide,” she said.

What’s more upsetting for Greer is that she learned about the funding dilemma in the Bradenton Herald. She said she didn’t return a call for a comment at the time because she wanted to contact the city and county to find out what was happening.

“I had not heard that either agency was pulling or thinking about pulling funding and wanted to speak to them first, before speaking out of turn,” Greer said.

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Urban Affairs Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been covering the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.

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