Broadband internet expansion and an aquaponics program are among City of Dubuque officials’ plans to spend federal funds designated for housing and community development initiatives.

City Council members this week voted, 7-0, to approve the city’s fiscal year 2022 Community Development Block Grant Annual Action Plan. The plan outlines how Housing and Community Development Department staff intend to spend the $1.1 million the city will receive through the federal Community Development Block Grant program, along with an additional $254,192 from revenues expected to be generated by CDBG-funded programs.

The fiscal year 2022 plan includes several new city initiatives, including a credit-repair program, aquaponics systems in food deserts and neighborhood broadband development.

A total of $625,898 will go toward housing development offerings such as home rehabilitation, a first-time homebuyer program, lead hazard reduction and window replacement.

The city’s new credit-repair program, to which $100,000 was allocated, will offer credit counseling and direct financial assistance to help low- and moderate-income residents repair their credit so they can qualify for home loans.

“This new program is to help people become first-time homebuyers,” said Alexis Steger, director of Housing and Community Development for Dubuque. “We see a lot of barriers to becoming a homeowner being related to credit and what is considered bankable by a private bank.”

The city also plans to spend $428,358 on neighborhood and community development through efforts such as expanding recreation programs for low- to moderate-income neighborhoods and constructing aquaponics systems to act as community gardens on vacant lots throughout the city.

Steger said the aquaponics program will help to address food deserts in the community and give low-income neighborhoods a useful amenity. The term “food desert” is used to describe an area where it is difficult to purchase affordable or fresh food.

“It helps put food in places where grocery stores are a little less accessible,” Steger said.

Council Member Brad Cavanagh praised the aquaponics program plan and said he hopes it can also be used to develop work skills for residents.

“This isn’t just about food and food security,” he said. “I think it also provides us an opportunity to connect with people in the neighborhoods to take ownership of a project like this.”

City officials also intend to spend $100,000 to install Wi-Fi routers that would provide free internet access in low- to-moderate income neighborhoods. The project is expected to reach 5,000 residents.

“This is to get broadband into a home, not just strung through the infrastructure on our streets, but actually into the homes of low- to moderate-income people,” Steger said.

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