Valdosta is already reaping the benefits of being one of Georgia's newest metropolitan areas.

The City of Valdosta received official notification from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mayor Jimmy Rainwater announced Thursday during City Council's regular session.

Entitlement status means the city will no longer compete with other non-entitlement cities and counties in Georgia for Community Development Block Grant funds. Instead, the city will now receive more than $700,000 annually to assist with housing and community development projects for low to moderate income residents.

"Previously, under the competitive program, the city has been awarded CDBG funds for two major projects over the past five years," said Mara Register, community development director. "CDBG funds were used to assist with construction costs for the Mildred Hunter Community Center and for infrastructure costs for the Jimmy Carter Work Project completed this year. We are very excited about the status and the opportunity to improve our community."

Cities may only receive entitlement status in three ways. A city must have an incorporated population of 50,000 or greater; must have a countywide population of 200,000 or greater; or must be the central city in a metropolitan area.

In June, Valdosta received notification of metropolitan status and was named the central city for the MSA which includes Lowndes, Lanier, Echols and Brooks counties.

Before receiving the first round of entitlement funds, the City must complete a consolidated housing plan. The City held several citizen forums in July, August and September in the City's HUD revitalization area. The Valdosta State University Government Excellence Team is compiling the data from those forums. The consolidated plan, which is a five-year plan of strategies based on citizen input, is expected to be completed within the next four months.

In making the announcement about entitlement status Thursday, Rainwater said Valdosta is receiving the largest amount of funding of any new metro city in the state.

City Councilman Sonny Vickers said the new entitlement status will help the City consistently address the issue of substandard housing. "This is the vehicle for eliminating substandard housing in 15 years' time," he said.

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