Northampton, Holyoke in line for coronavirus relief funds 

  • Northampton City Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Holyoke City Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/7/2020 2:01:41 PM

NORTHAMPTON — More than $1 million in federal coronavirus relief funding is set to go to Holyoke and Northampton, and the cities are determining how to best use the influx of cash.

Holyoke officials are still deciding how its money will be spent and have questions for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that provided the money, while Northampton has made spending proposals and is asking for input from residents in a public hearing on Friday morning.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, gave HUD $3 billion in COVID-19 relief funding — some of which will go to Valley cities.

Through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from HUD, Holyoke will receive $744,265 and Northampton $401,400, according to HUD.

“Cities and towns in the commonwealth and across the country are on the frontlines of our fight against this pandemic, and they need our support,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement. “This critical funding will help our mayors and local governments continue to provide essential services like testing and treatment to their communities and mitigate the impact of this crisis on our families — but they’re going to need a lot more, and I am going to keep fighting for it.”

Northampton is proposing spending the new HUD funds, as well as approximately $100,000 of money for programs slowed due to COVID-19, on supporting small businesses, the development of a resilience hub, emergency shelter, and food security efforts, among other initiatives, according to a legal advertisement for Friday’s meeting provided by Wayne Feiden, the city’s director of planning and sustainability.

In addition, $682,340 in regular CDBG funding that the city expects to receive in July will be put toward COVID-19 relief in the city, bringing the total CDBG money the city will spend to $1.2 million, Mayor David Narkewicz announced on Monday.

Funding will go toward the recently opened emergency shelter at Northampton High School, which is a significant cost, Feiden said, but he isn’t yet sure how much of it the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover.

Narkewicz announced $125,000 for small businesses — which the city defined as having 10 or fewer employees — that will be provided in grants as large as $10,000. He also said that more than $100,000 will go toward social service organizations, including $25,000 to the Northampton Survival Center and Grow Food Northampton.

“They’ve been working to try to address the real severe food security issues,” he said.

Funding also is proposed for a resilience hub, which the city has previously described as a space that clusters services and resources — such as showers, meals, health care, caseworkers, and the ability to warm up in the winter or cool off in the summer — aimed at low-income residents, those experiencing homelessness and others on the frontline of climate change and other stresses.

“It’s not a new idea, but it’s taken new urgency with COVID-19,” Feiden explained. “Until there is a vaccination, there is still going to be (COVID-19) in the population. What happens next fall? What happens next winter?”

A resilience hub would not open anytime soon, though. “This takes some planning,” Feiden said. “It could potentially open in the next year.”

It’s also a suggestion that came out of the mayor’s panhandling work group report released last fall. “One of the recommendations was this idea of being a day community center to serve homeless and at-risk people in our community,” Narkewicz said. “We’re trying to move forward on that expeditiously.”

Residents can comment on how the city is proposing to spend emergency HUD funding at Friday’s meeting or submit written feedback to WFeiden@Northamptonma.gov. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. and can be accessed through Zoom at https://umass-amherst.zoom.us/j/417891346 and/or 646-876-9923. The meeting ID is 417 891 346.

Holyoke

Holyoke is still determining how to use the funding and waiting for more guidance from HUD, said Alicia Zoeller, administrator of the city’s Office for Community Development.

The mayor’s office created three working groups each focused on housing, economic development, or food access and social services, that are gathering information on needs stemming from COVID-19, Zoeller said. The groups are “ears on the ground in the city working with all kinds of nonprofits, stakeholders and municipal departments,” she said.

Once a plan is developed, there will be a public comment period, Zoeller said.

Already, some existing, non-emergency CDBG funding is being redirected for COVID-19 relief. Last month, Mayor Alex Morse announced in a statement that the city would be giving a 15% bump in CDBG funding to Womanshelter/Compañeras, Providence Ministries and WestMass Eldercare. Landlords in the city’s Rental Neighborhood Improvement Program — which gives low-interest loans to property owners to rent to low or moderate-income tenants — will see some relief.

“We offered them a deferment, a forbearance of their loan payment for six months,” Zoeller said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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