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City to provide child care help with block grant money

Eagle-Tribune - 5/15/2019

May 15-- May 15--HAVERHILL -- The city plans to spread the nearly $1 million in Community Development Block Grant money it expects to receive from the federal government this year on a various neighborhood initiatives, including providing child care scholarships to encourage residents get a job, helping first-time homebuyers pay up-front costs, and help fund a space for free job training.

Bill Pillsbury, the city's director of economic development, said he expects the city will receive a similar amount to last year, approximately in the $970,000 range, to be spent in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

He said 80 percent of the money the city receives from the federal government each year must benefit low to moderate income residents and spent primarily within target neighborhoods, notably Mt. Washington, the Acre and the Highlands.

The program also supports public services such as food pantries, home heating assistance, programs to assist the homeless, and community groups such as Emmaus Inc. and Community Action.

Pillsbury told the City Council at its May 7 meeting that CDBG money is helping with neighborhood stabilization efforts such as housing rehabilitation for owner-occupied projects, code enforcement, selective demolition, improvements to streets and sidewalks, and assistance to programs such as Rebuilding Together, which he said is an important program for the city.

"And we've branched out in recent years with our first-time homebuyer program," he said.

Qualified time homebuyers, primarily in the Mt. Washington and Acre neighborhoods are eligible for down-payment and/or closing cost assistance, according to Andrew Herlihy, the city's division director for Community Development.

"We use this as a tool to increase owner occupancy in certain areas of the city," Herlihy said. "Most people live in neighborhoods where everyone owns, or no one owns, so we're trying to infuse home ownership in neighborhoods with low owner occupancy."

This year, the city provided up to $6,000 for about a dozen applicants in inner-city neighborhoods, and will bump that up to $7,500 per applicant in the next fiscal year for the Mt. Washington neighborhood.

"For the Acre, it will still be $6,000," Herlihy said. "Mt. Washington is a critical area with the lowest, owner-occupied rates while incomes are rising in the Acre along with more home ownership."

Pillsbury said the program is branching out to provide support for childcare, and will focus on the Mt. Washington neighborhood

To encourage more people to get into the workforce due to childcare costs, the city will be offering some support for them to send their children to quality childcare services to free them up to find employment.

Money will be available to help as many as six households per year.

Herlihy said the city is working with Mass Hire Haverhill (formerly ValleyWorks) and various childcare providers.

"The providers tend to know the parents, and we ask them to refer parents to us," he said. "We're trying to drive up employment, especially in the Mt. Washington area where there is a labor participation problem as well as child care issues."

The federal money, along with money from other sources will be used to support the Make it Haverhill center at 301 Washington St., where community leader Keith Boucher is working to transform a former shoe store into a neighborhood job training center and makerspace, where entrepreneurs can start their businesses.

"Southwick provided them with sewing machines, to learn on, then people apply for a job at Southwick," Herlihy said.

Although the council eagerly approved Pillsbury's request to have the mayor submit the city's Fiscal Year 2020 CDBG plan to the federal government, some counselors expressed their concerns with the level of funding.

Counselor Tom Sullivan praised Pillsbury for what he's been able to accomplish with the block grant money the city receives, but expressed disappointment with the amount of money coming from the federal government.

"I think it's an embarrassment that our president and our federal legislators can't get us more money can't get us more money for programs such as this ... given the size of the federal government budget it really is embarrassing and somewhat of a disgrace that we don't get any more money," he said.

Counselor William Macek echoed Sullivan's concerns.

"Our federal government has almost forgotten about communities," Macek said."They spend money around the world without much thought, and they don't think much about sending money back to help the communities."


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