Where Does the Bucket Leak? Sending Money to the Poor via the Community Development Block Grant Program

Leah Brooks*, Maxim Sinitsyn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Since the inception of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in 1975, cities and large urban counties have been entitled to funding based on a formula designed to approximate community need. As with any such federally funded and locally administered program, there is a tension between federal and local control. At the federal level, one of CDBG's main goals is to benefit low- and moderate-income (LMI) people and places. While a substantial literature assesses how well CDBG funds are targeted to needy recipient jurisdictions, evidence on how funds are distributed within recipient jurisdictions is much more limited. In this article, we examine the distribution of CDBG funds relative to the share of LMI people at the council-district and neighborhood levels in Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California, for 1998 - 2004. In Los Angeles, we find that relatively poorer council districts receive more than they would were funds distributed following the share of LMI people. In contrast, Chicago's relatively poorer council districts receive lower funding than predicted by their share of the LMI population. This difference across council districts within the cities is partially explained by the greater sensitivity of allocations in Chicago to the location of high-income households. Despite these disparities, policy answers are not obvious; any policy that aims to enhance CDBG's reach to LMI people must contend with the erosion of broad-based political support that this would engender.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-171
Number of pages53
JournalHousing Policy Debate
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • CDBG
  • Community Development Block Grant
  • economic development
  • neighborhood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Urban Studies
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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