Programs aim to help residents continue to recover from challenging COVID-19 impacts
Mayor Katjana Ballantyne’s administration is leveraging funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to expand city youth services and grow the city’s Office of Housing Stability (OHS). Both areas of focus are designed to address significant pandemic impacts to the community.
“We are still learning the full impact COVID-19 had on the Somerville community, but we can already observe that the pandemic had an outsized effect on our youth population and residents facing housing stability,” said Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. “I am thrilled to share how we are using ARPA funds to create and expand services to help both of these communities continue to recover.”
Youth Services and Programming investments span economic, enrichment, and nutritional support, with an emphasis on mental well-being. Reports of pandemic impacts on youth social, emotional, or mental well-being continue to mount. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), trauma faced at this developmental stage may have long-term consequences across a youth’s lifespan. To help youth and their families navigate these challenges, ARPA fund investments in Somerville youth services include:
- New Teen Spaces
- Somerville has created temporary teen spaces at the Edgerly Education Center and the Powderhouse Field House. While the city plans for a permanent Teen Center, the temporary spaces provide teens a place to relax and socialize, as well as events and activities, connections to services, and access to City social workers, as youth and teens continue to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
· The Summer of Yes Program
o Designed for older children, this free summer program offered students in-person extra-curricular opportunities to combat significant social and emotional learning loss experienced during the pandemic. Summer of Yes also funded local non-profits, childcare centers, and extracurricular activity providers.
· Carrot Cards
o Prepaid debit cards provided by local organization Food for Free, using ARPA funding, help children and families purchase the food they need outside of school. This program brings an exciting update to the Weekend Backpack program, allowing families to choose the foods that are right for them.
· The Post-Secondary Success Pilot Program
o The City of Somerville’s Economic Development Division and the Somerville Public Schools are partnering to launch the Post-Secondary Success Program, which seeks to provide additional support for Somerville High School graduates by extending counseling and guidance opportunities for Somerville youth past the traditional high school term.
The SomerPromise Child Care Tuition Assistance Program
o This program seeks to help alleviate the pandemic’s negative economic impacts on children and families by providing more affordable early childhood care and education opportunities to Somerville families, with highest-need families given priority access to subsidized childcare.
The COVID pandemic led to skyrocketing rates of housing instability—millions of U.S. households fell behind on rent and mortgage payments, jeopardizing their ability to stay in their homes during a time of great uncertainty. Early relief funds from sources like the federal CARES Act have ended, but ARPA offers an opportunity to offer further recovery from the negative economic and housing impacts of the pandemic.
The City of Somerville’s Office of Housing Stability (OHS), which has been credited as key to keeping Somerville’s eviction rates below the Massachusetts average by the Cambridge Health Alliance, is using ARPA funding to expand their services and add new opportunities to serve local residents:
· Flex-ARPA Rental Assistance
o Somerville’s rental assistance program covers an array of direct financial expenses for Somerville residents to stabilize their housing or to assist with rehousing. As the name implies, this fund is more flexible than other programs available—it covers a wider range of both residents and expenses, because the most vulnerable tenants are often ineligible for mainstream housing assistance.
· Bilingual Rental Advocates
o Four additional advocates have been hired to help hundreds of local tenants access rental assistance programs and remain in their homes. While a high percentage of applications for state rental assistance are denied or considered incomplete, this office has a 95% success rate with state applications.
· Free Legal Services for Somerville Residents
o Local lawyers are contracted by OHS to help residents facing eviction or other housing instability. This program has a higher income cutoff than other traditional legal services programs, expanding the number of residents who can access this needed service.
· Eviction Moratorium & Housing Stability Resources
o During the Summer of 2022, every Somerville household and property owner received a packet of information about the eviction moratorium and housing stability resources. These ARPA-funded mailings were sent to 34,000 resident households and 17,255 resident property owners.
The City of Somerville has been allocated $77,504,170 from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to aid in local pandemic recovery efforts. Informed by input from nearly 2,000 survey responses, dozens of focus groups, two public forums, and a 14-member advisory committee, the City has been designating ARPA funds for a wide range of recovery purposes. To learn more about the City’s current ARPA projects and funding parameters, visit www.somervillema.gov/arpa.