Direct cash assistance to people facing eviction or homelessness won unanimous backing from city councilors on Monday; the idea is now up to the city manager to consider how much could be spent on the project out of the $88 million in Covid relief funds.
“We’re seeing a pretty serious homelessness crisis,” said Quinton Zondervan, who wrote the policy ordinance based on a recommendation from Councilman Marc McGovern. Report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Homelessness from January 31. The order aims to “make a quick response…to help people who are in need at this time”.
The money would come from federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act coming to Cambridge – with $65 million coming in directly and another $23 million channeled through the state.
It could be applied somewhat liberally, Zondervan said. Treasury Department guidelines for the use of the money suggest that instead of requiring people to prove their problems are a direct result of the pandemic, city officials “may assume that a household or a population that has experienced unemployment, experienced an increase in food or housing insecurity, or is low- or moderate-income people have experienced negative economic impacts as a result of the pandemic.
A Committee on Human Services and Veterans Affairs hearing could be scheduled as early as this month to consider even more of the report’s recommendations, said McGovern, co-sponsor of Zondervan’s order. A finance committee hearing is scheduled for March 2 to review the use of federal funds, and Presidents Dennis Carlone and Patty Nolan said they have met with city staff twice to prepare them for spending aligned with the priorities of the advice such as the homelessness initiative.
Direct financial assistance
Direct assistance was recommended as “vital” by members of the ad hoc task force who are not housed and those who work with them, McGovern said.
Advisors were supportive. “What we’ve seen during the pandemic is that direct cash assistance is helping people keep and stay in their homes,” Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon said. She and McGovern worked with Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui on Cambridge Rise, an initiative announced in April to offer unconditional $500 monthly debit card payments to 120 eligible single-custodian households over an 18-month period that began in August.
The housing subsidies discussed on Monday were made possible by a word from the legal department that the federal money was not limited by an “anti-aid amendment” that prevents the city from disbursing its own money directly to people or businesses. . “We have during the pandemic seen the [Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee], Just A Start and Margaret Fuller House have all provided direct cash assistance to keep people in their homes. We’ve seen the Cambridge Rise do the same every month,” Mallon said. “There’s nothing more important we can do with this money than work on homelessness.”
A caveat was issued by Councilor Paul Toner as to whether other needs, including small business support and infrastructure, would be included in the spending.
About $30 million of the total Covid relief funds have already been committed, although some of that is also earmarked to help with evictions and homelessness issues based on suggestions from staff at the city, Siddiqui said. Funds and priorities committed are to be discussed further on March 2, but so far $2.5 million has been invested in a municipal restaurant and nightlife grant program and “it there will also be money in other areas”.
The use of the money must be decided by 2024, and “just over half” must be spent by 2026, Siddiqui said.
“It’s up to the city manager to come back to us and recommend how much money he thinks we should spend on this and in what timeframe, but I think a year is probably quite reasonable and probably isn’t, unfortunately. , not even enough,” Zondervan said, noting that just $1 million would mean $1,000 each for every thousand people.