Metropolitan area status stays in place for Niles-Benton Harbor, for further study

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, July 15, 2021

NILES – The Niles-Benton Harbor Metropolitan Statistical Area will remain in place until more research is done by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

In a decision, officially to be published July 16, the OMB took into consideration a “recommendation to raise the minimum MSA core population threshold from 50,000 to 100,000.”

The Niles-Benton Harbor MSA area is 567.8 square miles, according to Census Reporter. The Niles-Benton Harbor area is “observed” to have 153,025 people, according to data interpreted on the Federal Research Bank of St. Louis website.

“[The] OMB does not accept the initial recommendation to raise the MSA core population threshold in the 2020 standards, and has decided to leave the current threshold of 50,000 in place. A change to the fundamental criteria that determine whether an area is considered metropolitan would cause disruption to statistical programs and products, and would be difficult for the statistical agencies to implement,” according to the OMB.

The OMB decided there was “insufficient justification” to raise the threshold to 100,000, which would require further research on areas to be considered “metropolitan.”

The OMB committed to working with the Standards Review Committee to do outreach and research over the next four years to take a closer look at what requirements should be in place to be a designated MSA area.

Sanya Vitale, Niles Community Development Director, said the designation has been important to major opportunities in the city recently.

“Being designated as an MSA and having that kind of microscope allows us to continue as an entitlement community, much like Benton Harbor is as well,” Vitale said. “We then can see that certain designations allow us to be classified as an entitled community, which allows us to be eligible for the community development block grant fund.”

On May 24, the Niles City Council accepted an allocation of over $7,030,000 from the U.S. Department of Treasure, as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Niles being designated a “principal city of a metropolitan area” in 2003 made the funding available to the city government.

“The city is going to be talking with the community over the next year or so about that. We would not have been able to access that without being an entitlement community,” Vitale said. “The funding difference would have been millions and millions of dollars.”

She estimated Niles may have been in line to receive between $2.5 and $3 million if the status were gone.

“That’s an amazing difference. We need these continued designations because we need these types of projects,” Vitale said.

She referenced Niles’ code enforcement efforts, as one program that benefits from funding from the CDBG.

“We go out and do these aggressive code enforcement programs that allow us to do our rental and commercial inspections, and have someone dedicated in the field for that day in and day out, in an area where other communities like Niles might not have that you may see an increase in fires in other areas,” Vitale said. “We don’t know that for sure, but we are not having that issue because we have a more aggressive code enforcement because of the block grant.”

The police department, fire department, programs like the Niles-Buchanan YMCA’s Summer My Way, and programs for those experiencing homelessness are also impacted by the funding available through the metropolitan area designation.

“I think, without it, we would be beholden to a competitive application process at the state level. I’m sure we would be able to get a project [funded] every few years in Niles, because we would make a good opportunity, but it would only be every few years,” Vitale said. “It would limit code enforcement, limit summer parks programs, limit connections for infrastructure and all of those things.”