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Reading Difficult RFPs and Links for 3-23-08

* We’ve talked before about how difficult reading RFPs can be. The Section 514, 515, and 516 Multi-Family Housing Revitalization Demonstration Program (MPR) gives a particularly good example of how an application can hide who might actually be eligible for the grant. The program is supposed to support rural multi-family housing (which seems like an oxymoron anyway—don’t rural areas, by definition, have enough space to build all the single-family housing they need?), and the application eligibility says:

(1) Eligibility under 7 CFR 3560.55; however, the requirements described in 7 CFR 3560.55(a)(5) pertaining to required borrower contributions and 7 CFR 3560.55(a)(6) pertaining to required contributions of initial operating capital are waived for all MPR proposals.

So we have to go find whatever 7 CFR 3560.55 is. Google brings up this .pdf file. And the very first thing this section tells us is:

Applicants for off-farm labor housing loans and grants should also refer to § 3560.555, and applicants for on-farm
labor housing loans should refer to § 3560.605.

So we should go look somewhere else for eligibility! Does anyone at the USDA actually read these notices and think about what it’s like for whoever is on the other end? I’m just trying to figure out if organizations other than public agencies or nonprofits are eligible to apply, and I think “”§ 3560.55 Applicant eligibility requirements (5)” tells me: “With the exception of applicants who are a nonprofit organization, housing cooperative or public body, be able to provide the borrower contribution from their own resources.” If nonprofits and public organization are excepted, it would appear that private organizations are eligible. If only the initial funding announcement had just said so.

It’s also difficult to gauge what this program actually does, and if I were a reporter, I might start sniffing around for past winners and looking for Tony Soprano-style connections. Sure, this sounds paranoid, but then you read about what goes on at HUD and think maybe it’s not.

* In a Giving Carnival post, we discussed why people give and firmly answered, “I don’t know”. Now the New York Times expends thousands of words in an entire issue devoted to giving and basically answers “we don’t know either.” An article on measuring outcomes is also worth reading, although the writer appeared not to have read our post on the inherent problems in evaluations.

* Perpetual government programs of the sort we describe in Zombie Funding – Six Tana Leaves for Life, Nine for Motion, Déjà vu All Over Again—Vacant Houses and What Not to Do About Them, and Phoenix Programs also occur in other countries. An example comes by way of Megan McArdle:

THANKS TO Alain Destexhe, a Belgian senator (and that rarest/loneliest of beings, a Belgian free market liberal), for today’s fact of the day. Mr Destexhe reports on his blog that the Belgian central bank still employs more than 2,000 people, even though it has not had a currency to oversee since 1999, when Belgium joined the euro.

* What is up with the guys at the Grant Institute? We’ve written three posts (here, here, and here) about how useless grant training seminars are. But Anthony Jones works for them and sent me a form e-mail announcing that “The Grant Institute: Certificate in Professional Program Development and Grant Communication will be held in Houston, Texas, April 21 – 25, 2008.” The cost: a mere thousand dollars. Your grand buys courses like one “centered around expert communication principles, this class will change the way students conceptualize grant proposals and other fundraising tools.” Whatever that means. Clearly they have at least one grant writer working for them.

Furthermore, Anthony’s e-mail states that “You have received this invitation due to specific educational affiliation.” I’d love to know who that affiliate is.

* NPR learns about vacant housing problems without reading Déjà vu All Over Again—Vacant Houses and What Not to Do About Them. C’mon guys: this isn’t the first time housing problems like the present ones have existed.

* Freakonomics wants to know what can be done to close the achievement gap between white and Asian students versus Black and Hispanic students. Actually, Freakonomics ignored Asians and Hispanics of any race, who between them represent 19.2% of the population, or about 57,000,000 people. But people interested in this problem should still read it.

* Dropout rate numbers are notoriously unreliable, and the New York Times tells us why. For academic research that observes the same thing, see The American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels. For example:

(a) the true high school graduation rate is substantially lower than the official rate issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics; (b) it has been declining over the past 40 years; (c) majority/minority graduation rate differentials are substantial and have not converged over the past 35 years […]