9521.1 Community Center Eligibility

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This policy details eligibility criteria for permanent repair, restoration and replacement of PNP community centers under Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, P.L. 93-288 as amended (Stafford Act). It is intended for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel involved in making public assistance eligibility determinations and personnel otherwise involved in the administration of the Public Assistance Program. This policy is applicable to all major disasters and emergencies declared on or after the publication date of this policy.

This policy is archived and has been superseded by the policy currently in effect.

  1. Date Published: August 11, 1998

  2. Response and Recovery Directorate Policy Number: 9521.1

  3. Title: Community Center Eligibility

  4. Purpose: To specify criteria that a private nonprofit (PNP) facility must meet to be eligible, as a community center, for disaster assistance under Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 206.221(e)(6).

  5. Scope and Audience: This policy details eligibility criteria for permanent repair, restoration and replacement of PNP community centers under Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, P.L. 93-288 as amended (Stafford Act). It is intended for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel involved in making public assistance eligibility determinations and personnel otherwise involved in the administration of the Public Assistance Program. This policy is applicable to all major disasters and emergencies declared on or after the publication date of this policy.

  6. Background:

    1. Public Law 100-707 added a new category of PNP facility eligible for assistance as "facilities which provide essential services of a governmental nature to the general public." The House report that accompanied the bill included as PNPs "museums, zoos, community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities and shelter workshops that are open to the general public."

    2. Since the statute has been implemented through the 44 CFR provision, many PNPs have applied for disaster assistance under the category of community centers. However, the term "community center" is popularly used to describe a wide variety of facilities, many of which are not eligible for assistance under the Stafford Act.

    3. This guidance has been prepared to define what constitutes an eligible PNP community center. Note that all PNP applicants must also meet additional eligibility criteria, detailed primarily in 44 CFR 206, in order to receive disaster assistance. Under the Stafford Act, private nonprofit facilities that are not eligible as community centers may be eligible under other categories of PNP facilities, such as shelter workshops, senior citizen centers, schools, or homeless shelters. It is emphasized that just because a facility is owned or operated by a PNP does not mean that disaster assistance will be provided for that facility.

    4. This policy does not foresee see all situations and does not specifically address every circumstance. If further clarification is required when interpreting or implementing this policy, please consult with FEMA Response and Recovery Directorate, Washington, D.C.

  7. Policy:

    1. An eligible community center is defined as a facility open to the general public, established and primarily used as a gathering place for a variety of social, educational enrichment, and community service activities. Facilities established or primarily used for religious, political, athletic, recreational, vocational or academic training, the arts, conference, or similar activities are not eligible PNP community centers.

    2. An eligible applicant that leases an asset of an otherwise ineligible PNP applicant and uses it as a community center may be eligible for assistance if the lease, pre-dating the disaster, clearly specifies that the eligible applicant is responsible for repair of disaster damage.

    3. The key words and phrases used in the policy statement are discussed below:

      1. A "facility" is a building specifically designated as a community center, together with attached structures and grounds. In determining eligibility, the entire building is assessed, not just several rooms or a portion of the building. Thus, space designated and/or used for community center purposes will be evaluated in relation to the entire building within which it is located. In other words, if a basement is designated and/or used for community center purposes, but the rest of the building is used as a gymnasium, convention center, church or theater, the entire building will be evaluated for purposes of determining whether it is an eligible community center. In multiple use facilities, FEMA uses the principle of majority use to qualify the facility. If 51% of the facility qualifies as eligible, the facility is eligible.

        Similarly, a building that is part of a complex that includes outdoor facilities (e.g., swimming pool, athletic fields, tennis courts) will not be evaluated separately from the rest of the complex in determining eligibility of the facility. For example, an outdoor pool usually has a clubhouse for controlling entry, providing locker rooms, etc. In such cases, the clubhouse cannot be evaluated separately since it is an intrinsic part of the pool complex.

        However, a PNP organization that operates multiple community centers or a single community center composed of more that one building must have each building evaluated independently, even if all are on the same grounds. For example, assume a PNP organization owns a site on which three separate buildings are located and that the organization operates the entire group of buildings as a single community center. If two of the three buildings were determined to be eligible community centers and the third to be an administrative center, only two buildings would be considered eligible.

      2. "Open to the general public" not only requires that the facility be available to the public on a non-discriminatory basis, but that any access fees be reasonable. A facility at which most community center functions were offered to the public either free or for a reasonable use charge would usually meet this requirement. However, a facility with a high initiation fee or annual dues of hundreds of dollars generally would not be eligible.

      3. "Established..." refers to the purpose for which a facility was instituted. This should be determined by reviewing the organization's (pre-disaster) charter, bylaws, and amendments or other well-documented evidence of longstanding, routine (day-to- day) use of such facility as a community center. A facility offering a wide range of activities for only a brief period or at irregular intervals would not be eligible. As a general rule, a facility that was not founded as a community center would not be an eligible community center. If it cannot be established by documentary or other evidence that a facility that was used as a community center prior to a disaster, it will not be considered an eligible community center.

        Further evidence of the established purpose of a facility is the degree to which community center staff actively manages, oversees, and promotes community activities. Are there designated staff members responsible for community activity? Do they make community activities happen or merely let them happen? Simply making a room available to any community organization that happens to request it does not make a facility an eligible community center. There is, however, an exception to this general requirement. FEMA regulations recognize as eligible, a PNP organization that owns or operates an eligible PNP facility. This situation usually involves an eligible PNP organization that owns a facility that it leases to an operator of an eligible PNP community center. When the PNP owner is the entity legally responsible for performing disaster-related repairs to the facility, it is the activities and documentation of the PNP tenant community center that will be evaluated, not the PNP facility owner.

      4. "Primarily used..." means that more than half (i.e., over 50%) of the total use of the facility must be for community activities (i.e., "a variety of social, educational enrichment, and community service activities"). To qualify for disaster assistance, a community center need not be used exclusively for community activities; however, the majority use must be for community center functions. This could mean that if 40% of the activities at a particular facility were community oriented, 35% athletic, and 25% religious, the facility would not be an eligible community center.

        In determining primary use, there is no substitute for personally visiting the community center and touring the facility, along with reviewing relevant flyers, leaflets, advertisements, and newsletters. An on-site visit should be made whenever possible, especially if eligibility is in doubt.

        Materials such as the organizational charter, articles of incorporation, minutes of board meetings, activity logs, and other documents that existed prior to the disaster and evidence the facilities activities and uses prior to the disaster should be obtained and reviewed to ensure that a facility is not being identified as a community center for the first time only after the disaster.

        A facility's primary use can also be determined by checking the facility's pre-disaster listing in the local telephone directory. A "community center" listed in the telephone book yellow pages as a performing arts center would warrant closer examination.

        Primary use can be established by approximating the space and time dedicated to community activities. This approach should focus on the overall use of the facility without becoming mired in details. A determination of the amount of space can be made by approximating the floor space, number of rooms, or levels dedicated to community use. A determination of the amount of time can be made by approximating the hours actually used (not just scheduled) for community activities.

        An approximation of the number of participants regularly involved in various activities must also be considered in determining primary use. If a facility is used by 500 people a week for the pool and exercise equipment, and by 125 people a week for various community activities, it is primarily a recreation center, not a community center. If 2,500 people attend religious services each week at a particular facility, and 200 people participate in community activities there during the same period, its primary use is as a religious center, not an eligible community center.

        Another approach is to ask the question: "If all community activities were eliminated, would the facility still function?" If, stripped of all community activities, a facility would be a performing arts center, church, or gymnasium; it is more likely to have been established for that purpose, not as a community center. Conversely, if ending all community activities would result in an empty, unused building, the facility is more likely to have been established as a community center.

      5. "As a gathering place for a variety... (of activities)" means that the facility is used by many individuals and groups for many different purposes. Such use indicates the facility is used to the benefit of a broad segment of the local population, i.e., the community at large.

      6. "Social, educational enrichment, and community service activities" are key functions that define a community center. Variously referred to as "community activities", "community oriented activities", or "community center functions", they encompass the following three categories:

        1. Social activities include meetings and gatherings of individuals and groups to pursue items of mutual interest or concern, including activities involving the community as a whole. For example: community board meetings, youth and senior citizen group meetings, neighborhood barbecues, and various social functions of community groups.

        2. Educational enrichment activities include a wide variety of activities, but not vocational, academic, or professional training. For example, seminars in typical hobby or at-home pursuits such as gardening, sewing, ceramics, car care, personal financial and tax planning, stamp and coin collecting would be considered educational enrichment, not vocational training. In contrast, a facility primarily operated to train individuals to pursue the same activities as full-time paying careers would be considered a vocational or professional training institute, not an eligible community center.

        3. Community service activities include functions undertaken for the primary purpose of meeting significant needs of various individuals, groups, or the community at large. For example, senior citizen projects, rehabilitation programs, community clean up projects, blood drives, local government meetings, and similar activities would be included.

        In summary, a community center must involve many different activities, serving many diverse groups in order to be eligible. A facility used for only one or two activities or limited to a narrow range of activities, however worthwhile or socially redeeming, would not ordinarily serve a sufficiently broad and varied segment of the community to constitute an eligible community center. A facility that tailors its social, educational enrichment and community services and activities in a manner that is intended to appeal/attract/serve a "sub-community" (e.g., women, African-Americans, teenagers) may be an eligible community center. An important consideration when evaluating these types of facilities is to determine whether the facility and the majority of its services and activities are open to, and accessible by, all members of the community.

        Although it is not mandatory that a facility be used for all three general categories, a facility used exclusively for only one category (for example, educational enrichment activities) may not necessarily serve a sufficiently broad segment of the community to be eligible. Also, because of the inherent social nature of a community center, a facility only rarely used as a gathering place for community activities or meetings would ordinarily not qualify.

      7. "Facilities established or primarily used for religious -- or similar -- activities" are not eligible community centers. A facility used for a variety of community activities but primarily established or used as a religious institution or place of worship would be ineligible. Generally this includes churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other centers of religious worship.

        1. However, just because a community center is operated by a religious institution does not automatically disqualify it. In addition to worship services, many religious institutions conduct a variety of activities that benefit the community. Many of these activities are similar or identical to those performed by secular institutions and local governments. Although distinguishing between the religious and secular activities undertaken by religious institutions can be complex, some general guidelines can be offered.

        2. One key determinant for religious-based community centers is the nature of the activities. Exclusively religious are such activities as worship services, Sunday school, Bible study, missionary activities, choir and religious music, evangelism, religious fellowship activities, nursery during religious services, religious radio and television programming, preaching, prayer, religious training, and children, youth and seniors ministries. The use of the term "ministry" in a religious institution's literature, bulletin boards, flyers, advertisements, etc. in reference to an activity is generally construed to have a religious connotation, hence not a community center function. Bingo, bake sales, and other fund raising activities undertaken for the benefit of a religious institution would not be considered toward eligibility, whereas the same activities done to help the homeless may be.


      8. "Facilities primarily established or used for political -- or similar -- activities" are not eligible community centers. This includes partisan political activities, advocacy and lobbyist groups and any other groups that primarily serve to promote a political campaign, candidate, agenda, philosophy, or cause.

      9. "Facilities primarily established or used for...athletic, recreational, vocational or academic training, the arts, conferences, or similar activities" are not eligible, because they were specifically listed as examples of ineligible facilities in information supplementary to the September 14, 1993, revision to 44 CFR 206.221 (e)(6).

  8. SUPERSESSION: This policy updates and replaces all relevant FEMA past policy memoranda.

  9. AUTHORITIES: 44 CFR section 206.211 (e)(6)

  10. ORIGINATING OFFICE: Infrastructure Support Division, Response and Recovery Directorate.

  11. REVIEW DATE: Two years from date of publication

    Lacy E. Suiter
    Executive Associate Director
    Response and Recovery Directorate

  13. DISTRIBUTION: Regional Directors, Regional and Headquarters R&R Division Directors


Last Updated: 
02/13/2015 - 17:35
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