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Dowagiac, Cassopolis awarded NEP grants

CASS COUNTY — Two Cass County communities were awarded state grant funding for visual improvements.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority awarded $2.1 million in Neighborhood Enhancement Program grants to 56 local governments and nonprofit groups across Michigan. NEP is designed to launch improvement projects directly tied to enhancing and stabilizing communities. Projects can focus on neighborhood public amenity enhancements, improve residents’ quality of life, or help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Cass County, the village of Cassopolis was awarded $45,000, while the city of Dowagiac was awarded $30,000. Both have been awarded NEP grants in the past.

“These grants will allow local groups across the state to help their communities with specific needs that improve the quality of life for residents. MSHDA supports innovative, highly visible and meaningful housing-focused ideas to improve and stabilize neighborhoods,” said Gary Heidel, acting executive director of MSHDA.

During its fifth round of funding, MSHDA allocated $1 million to rural communities, designated as having 5,000 or fewer residents. To become a grantee, organizations had to show a level of need and demonstrate that the proposed project will make a noticeable difference within the community. Due to COVID-19, the project completion deadline for funded projects has been extended to September 2021.

The goal of this funding is to help — and eventually showcase — model Michigan neighborhoods where residents are engaged and facilitating change, MSHDA officials said.

In addition to the $30,000 Dowagiac received in the NEP grant, the city of Dowagiac received an additional $25,000 for performing well with the grant last year.

According to Assistant City Manager Natalie Dean, that funding will support 11 projects by approved Dowagiac homeowners. Six projects will be completed on the north side of town, while the remaining five will be completed on the south side of town.

In total, the city of Dowagiac has received $105,000 in NEP grant funding over the last two years. The funding has been used for various home and neighborhood improvement projects, from helping homeowners repair porches to repaving driveways.

“It creates a kind of neighborhood pride,” Dean said of the NEP grant. “By the time a project is done, it seems the whole neighborhood has gotten a facelift.”

Dean said the city is excited to see the new NEP projects begin and plans to not only apply for the grant again next year, but to administer it so well it receives another bonus like the one it recently acquired.

“My favorite part of my job is helping people who have lived in Dowagiac and raised their families here, so this is a really cool kickback for them,” she said. “We want to hopefully give everyone a chance to participate in this grant.”

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