City Manager Jon Jennings released his recommendations to the City Council for allocating the FY22 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, and supplemental CARES ACT funding. The City Council will hold two remote public hearings regarding this funding on April 5 and 26th before taking a final vote.
As a result of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the City received supplemental Community Development Block Grant funding (known as CDBG-CV3) in the amount of $634,669. In October, the City Council approved the allocation of $100,000 for the Winter Sustainability Grant Program, and $524,699 for rental assistance. Shortly after, the State of Maine launched a statewide rental assistance program. In order to limit confusion for Portland residents, MaineHousing indicated they would prefer the City not engage in a local rental assistance program as Portland residents would be eligible to access the statewide program. With the state rental assistance resources available, the City Manager is recommending the previously allocated $524,699 be re-programmed into the FY22 CDBG Allocation.
“Once again, we had a wide array of competitive social service applications,” said City Manager Jon Jennings. “As in past years, there are more deserving applicants than funds available, but what makes this year unique is the City has additional CDBG resources available to address the impacts of COVID-19. In addition to the annual allocation for social services, I am recommending CDBG-CV3 funding be re-programmed to fund most of the remaining applicants not funded through the annual CDBG allocation because they meet the CDBG-CV requirement to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID 19.”
City Manager Jennings added, “I would like to commend the CDBG Allocation Committee for their volunteer work and dedication to the City’s Community Development Program. I’d also like to extend my gratitude to our three City staff who oversee our CDBG efforts year-round -- Mary Davis, Amanda Methot, and Kelley Walsh. Their hard work makes a big difference in our community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacted the needs in Portland, creating many unique challenges for our community. Creativity and collaboration are key to addressing these needs. A coordinated, collaborative approach with community partners will not only meet the needs of our community, but also support a broader network of social supports for individuals in need of assistance.
As such, the City Manager is recommending that programs serving the growing homeless population are funded. This includes the Amistad Peer Outreach Program, Public Health Mobile Medical Outreach Program, Greater Family Promise Homeless Prevention, and the Preble Street Food Program. All four of these programs are by nature designed to prevent, prepare for, or respond to the current pandemic, and thus are eligible to receive CDBG-CV funding. Funding the Preble Street Food Program with CV funding frees up $55,000 from the annual CDBG allocation. In addition, there is $20,000 available from the proceeds of the sale of the Cotton Street Lot. It is his recommendation that the City Council allocate the $20,000 in Cotton Street proceeds, and the remaining $55,000 in CDBG funds, to Catholic Charities Immigrant Legal Services program, allowing the program to be almost fully funded. With these recommendations, 14 of the fifteen 15 applications would receive funding, a historic opportunity for the City’s CDBG program.
Without CDBG funding, it is likely a majority of these programs would not be able to operate, creating additional gaps in service, and an increased strain on an already limited system. An estimated 9,320 individuals and 48 families will be served through these programs. From medical care to food security, these programs will address the critical needs exasperated by the pandemic through a collaborative process and network of providers. The network of social service agencies in Portland has faced extreme challenges through the pandemic, from adapting programs to adhere to social distancing, to protecting staff members and clients, all while continuing to operate with a minimal disruption to services.
Jennings explained, “the resiliency and dedication these agencies have displayed is commendable and the impact these programs will have in our community is immeasurable. The City is in a unique position to support these agencies and the great work they do within our community.”
CDBG funds also play a critical role in the physical infrastructure and the economic development of our city. This year, in addition to the annual $90,000 in TIF funding, the City Manager is recommending $150,000 of CDBG-CV3 funding be allocated towards public facilities.
The $90,000 in Downtown TIF funding is recommended to be applied to the DPW Washington Ave Sidewalk Accessibility Improvement project. Without the additional allocation of TIF funding this project would not be able to proceed. This project not only enhances pedestrian safety, but also provides additional space for area businesses, many minority owned, to have expanded opportunities for outdoor dining and sales. The Manager is also recommending CDBG-CV3 funding be applied towards a public bathroom pilot program, initiated by Parks, Recreation and Facilities and the Department of Public Works. This funding will assist in addressing a largely unmet need that came to light during the pandemic.
In addition to the CDBG recommendations, the City Manager is also presenting his recommendations for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Program. As with CDBG funds, creativity and collaboration are key to addressing the vast needs in our community, particularly the members of our community who are experiencing housing insecurity.
As a result of the CARES Act, the City received supplemental ESG funding (known as ESG-CV2) in the amount of $1,004.425. ESG-CV funding must be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to meeting the CV requirements, ESG funding is restricted to five eligible program components including; street outreach, emergency shelter, homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing, and administration.
The City’s Health and Human Services Department and Housing and Community Development Division worked to identify gaps in services, areas in need, and viable solutions to aid in addressing these issues. One of the most prominent needs has been a day space to provide meals and shelter for those experiencing homelessness. The City Manager’s recommendations include funding for several food programs. These programs are currently operating through a mobile distribution model, forcing individuals to eat outside on the streets. While social distancing and maintaining CDC guidelines is of the utmost importance, the City believes this can be done while providing a humane and safe space for individuals to access meals.
As such, the Manager is proposing that the remaining CDBG-CV3 funding, in combination with ESG-CV2 funding, be distributed through a competitive application process to provide and operate a day space for homeless individuals.
To aid in street outreach, the Manager’s recommendations include funding for Spurwinks’s Behavioral Health Outreach Worker program based at 22 Park Ave. The behavioral health outreach workers serve as case management, street outreach, and triage specialists for support services. This program will provide triage and case management services in Portland shelters and housing accessed by Long Term Stayers, with the primary focus on the unsheltered homeless population. This program will serve as an ultra-low barrier-housing program designed to stably house a small group of people who have historically faced difficulties with housing security and retention. The program will also provide outreach in Deering Oaks Park to address some of the issues that emerged in 2020 during the pandemic. The program will assist people outside and gathering in the surrounding area, with a goal of bringing Long Term Stayers into housing and ensuring their success.
To aid in homeless prevention and housing stabilization services, funding is included for a new program the Health and Human Services Department modeled after the Pine Street Inn’s Front Door Triage Program in Boston, MA. The Prevention and Diversion program would be located on the peninsula with other social services offices and staff would have the ability to connect with individuals before they enter emergency shelter and homelessness. Staff will have the ability to seek alternate resources, connect with property owners to mediate evictions, and enroll individuals in prevention case management services. The program will operate seven days a week, providing Portland residents access to homeless prevention services on a daily basis.
Lastly, the Manager’s recommendations include funding be allocated towards Shelter Operations and Essential Services for the Family Shelter. This funding will address a portion of the additional costs arising from cleaning and maintaining social distancing requirements while ensuring families experiencing homeless continue to be able to access safe and secure shelter. The Family Shelter continues to see a steady flow of families in need of shelter and this additional funding will ensure services continue to be provided.