PORTLAND -- The Cumberland County Commissioners at their meeting on April 11, 2022 approved distributing more than $7 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to area projects and non-profits. The County’s first round of community investments will focus on regional challenges made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular affordable housing, mental health and substance use disorder.
New investments from Cumberland County will enable the rapid construction of 233 units of affordable housing in Greater Portland and the Lakes Region; 20 new single family homes for low-income first time buyers; support for 100 persons and families seeking housing; 1,400 food security meals per day; and new, targeted support for up to 4,330 people struggling with mental health and substance use disorder.
These projections do not include the more than $4.5 million in community investment funds previously announced by the County, that will support construction of new emergency housing shelters with the City of Portland in Portland and Tedford Housing in Brunswick; and a significant study of housing insecurity in the Lakes Region, to be conducted by Tedford Housing.
“We’re really excited about these investments,” said Travis Kennedy, Director of Public Affairs for Cumberland County. “The Commissioners gave us three priorities for this first round: they wanted us to find the projects that are ready to get to work right away, the projects that would begin to address really critical issues, and the projects that would have a long-term, generational impact. These applicants check every box.”
The Commissioners also separately approved funding for a new behavioral health liaison position, as part of a collaboration between Cumberland County and the towns of Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth.
The liaison will help provide intervention, follow-up, and referrals for residents and visitors of the three towns who find themselves in crisis. Police Chiefs in the participating towns anticipate that the program will reduce forced hospitalizations and repeat calls to homes for mental health issues, and improve department education and community outreach on topics like suicide prevention.
“Cumberland County will manage the contract for the behavioral health liaison,” Kennedy said. “As this model demonstrates success and other towns show interest, we should be able to expand the program pretty seamlessly."
The announcements are the latest in a series of significant investments that Cumberland County is making in the community with ARPA funds. The American Rescue Plan Act allocated 57.3 million to Cumberland County in 2021, and the County received the first tranche - $28.7 million - last May. A second disbursement is expected later this spring.
Throughout 2021, Cumberland County staff and Commissioners engaged in a rigorous process of identifying critical needs that qualify for ARPA funds. County staff created an open portal on the County website, where residents could offer suggestions. Staff and commissioners conducted dozens of meetings with advocates, elected leaders and other key stakeholders, including a marathon public forum in June 2021.
The County Commissioners allocated a portion of funds for capital improvement projects that address facility challenges highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including an expansion of medical facilities at the County Jail, spacing for dispatchers at the Regional Communications Center, retrofitting of the Cross Insurance Arena for potential use as an Alternative Care Site, and air handling at County buildings. The County also established a public health office, among other key priorities that qualify under ARPA.
The Commissioners assigned $11 million of the first tranche to invest in collaborative projects with area municipalities, nonprofits and businesses that will address major challenges facing Cumberland County - many of which were made worse because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The County hired a full-time compliance manager in autumn, and engaged the services of Neighborly software to create a transparent public bidding process. Commissioners nominated members of the public to serve on an advisory committee, with a task of reviewing applications and making funding recommendations.
Sixty-five area municipalities, businesses and non-profits submitted applications for funding, requesting a total of $51.6 million against $11 million in available competitive funds. The County Commissioners requested that the advisory committee perform a first review of applications that were shovel-ready, and addressed the most pressing needs facing the region: in particular housing, food security, and support for residents with mental health and substance use disorders.
The advisory committee met throughout the winter and spring, performing an extensive review of each application and making a recommendation for funding to the Commissioners in March.
Project funding will be available to partners immediately after contracts are signed in May.
The advisory committee will review the remaining applications for a second round of funding, which will focus on a range of critical needs including child care, job training, and public infrastructure. The advisory committee will give strong consideration to projects that improve equity and inclusion in the region, based on guidance from the Department of Treasury.
A total of $3.9 million is still available for the second round, and Cumberland County expects to make more community investments with future ARPA funding. The second tranche of $28.7 million could arrive as soon as May.
Funded projects include:
The Maine Recovery Fund - $100,000.
A ride to work - The program supports employment and integrative services for people in Cumberland County recovering from substance use disorder, reentering from jail and prison, new Americans, and returning veterans facing reentry obstacles. ARPA funds will pay for transportation costs, such as bus passes, uber, or taxi services.
Portland Recovery Community Center - $515,152.
Building Hope and Creating Community - Funding will support a building renovation that makes existing space COVID-19 friendly and thereby allows for expanded services. The building renovation will allow more people affected by addiction to receive effective in-person recovery support despite COVID-19.
Westbrook Housing Authority - $565,000
Stacey M. Symbol Apartments - Funding will support the development of 60 newly constructed affordable apartments reserved for seniors earning at or below 50% and 60% of Area Median Income (AMI). The goal of the project is to help alleviate rising costs of housing within the local market that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Westbrook Housing Authority - $565,000
The Stroudwater Apartments- Funds will support the creation of Stroudwater apartments, which will consist of 55 newly constructed affordable apartments reserved for seniors earning at or below 50% and 60% of Area Median Income (AMI). Creating more long-term affordable housing options for seniors will relieve both short-term and long-term strains on the system to allow people to live stably and safely for years to come. The County ARPA funds will be used to help cover rapidly escalating construction costs.
Avesta Housing - $350,000
Seavey Street - Funds will help acquire a 2.5+ acre parcel in Westbrook, ME. The parcel is located on Seavey Street, on the site of an old rail line, and is within a qualified census tract (QCT). Avesta will develop 60+ units of affordable housing on the site with all units restricted to 60% of AMI or below. The units will be all one-bedroom units; the target population will be older-adults 55+. This development is part of a larger effort to reinvigorate an infill site in the heart of Downtown.
Avesta Housing - $250,000
Meadowview II - funds will help acquire a 7+ acre parcel in Gray, ME. Avesta will develop 27 units of affordable housing on the site, with all units restricted to 60% of AMI or below. This development is part of a larger effort to reinvigorate an existing affordable housing site and create a campus atmosphere in the Village Center of Gray. The addition of these 27 units to the existing campus of 20 senior units will also allow Avesta to bring more scale to this site and will make community services more comprehensive and readily available.
Avesta Housing - 350,000
Village Commons - funds will to help acquire a .44+ acre parcel in Scarborough, ME. Avesta will develop 31 units of affordable senior housing on the site. There will be 30 one-bedroom units and one efficiency in a three-story elevator building. The units will be restricted to older adults, 55+ and all units will be affordable, reserved for individuals or couples earning less than or equal to 60% of AMI. A further 19 of these units will be set aside for individuals or couples earning less than or equal to 50% of AMI. All utilities are included in the rent helping to ensure affordability by reducing the burden of housing expenses.
Preble Street - $1,500,000
Food Security Hub - funds will help to refurbish and to convert the existing Food Security Hub space to a commercial production and processing kitchen, which will involve both construction build-out and foodservice equipment purchases. The move from the former office building cafeteria kitchen only supported 40-60 meals a day, the current space allows for an increase in production to 1,400 meals per day out of the space.
Habitat for Humanity - $2,600,000
New Home Build Program - funding will support the construction of twenty, energy-efficient, single-family homes, for low-income first-time homebuyers. The homes will be located in both South Portland and in Standish.
Youth and Family Outreach - $300,000
Building a Brighter Future - funding will support an expansion of the existing childcare facility, that will include affordable housing above to support the overhead of the daycare. The funds will be used for the construction portion of the development.
Quality Housing Coalition - $30,000
Growing Project HOME - the Project HOME model relies on a damage guarantee for each unit rented. Funds will support a pilot rental insurance approach that would eliminate the need for QHC to back each rental with cash. Funds would support 100 rental insurance policies per year, for three years.