Everett Rental Relief Program off to Slow Start

The vast majority of the $1.5 million set aside to help renters and homeowners with emergency assistance to pay rent and mortgages has yet to be tapped into, according to an update at the City Council on Monday night.

The new City-sponsored Rental and Homeowner Assistance Program – like the state RAFT program – has gotten a slow start this month due to issues with documentation and troubles contacting applicants. Needless to say, some have been helped and councilors did praise the organization of the program and the simplified application.

Mayoral Chief of Staff Erin Devaney told the Council they partnered with the ABCD organization to review applications and distribute money. Some $1.5 million in CARES Act funding delivered to the City last fall had been set aside for the new program – announced in December. Of that, $200,000 was paid to ABCD for administration costs and the organization was charged with distributing $1.3 million to Everett residents that qualified.

However, nearly one month after the opening of applications, some $1.1 million remains to be distributed.

Deveney said the application period closed on Dec. 22 and there were 316 applications received. Of those, 291 were deemed viable and were advanced to the next phase of review.

Already, 71 checks have gone out using a total of $216,279 of the allotted money. That left 220 applications still pending or stalled out.

“The reason this has taken some time to roll out is ABCD has had to reach out many times for documentation,” said Deveney.

The process includes filling out incomplete forms, providing required documents, verifying Everett residency and getting household size. That has been cumbersome, but she said they are working fast to try to fill in the gaps and get people contacted and applications complete. They are still accepting applications for a so-called waiting list.

That is because Everett was the beneficiary of an additional, unexpected $3.1 million in CARES Act funding from the state on Dec. 24. The state had told the City they weren’t eligible, but a hard lobbying effort by Mayor Carlo DeMaria reversed that decision. The current Assistance program is not using that $3.1 million, but will likely use a portion of it in the coming months to help those facing housing instability, Deveney said.

Councilors Stephanie Martins and Michael McLaughlin said they were pleased with the initial rollout of the program, as they had made the original call to organize a City program and not rely on the state’s slower RAFT program.

“This is crucial help and I’m happy to see the City came up with a simplified application that was easy to navigate,” she said.

Said McLaughlin, “We just met with you a short time ago in November, and you guys went from 0 to 100 to get this going really quickly.”

Deveney said there are some ABCD e-mails that reportedly went into applicant Spam folders, so everyone expecting return contact should check that. She also said to call 3-1-1 with any questions.

Looking at the Money

City Councilor Fred Capone called for two checks on spending Monday night, finally getting information about the costs of the new and somewhat new Christmas lights and the City’s use of Regan Communications for public relations.

For the Christmas lights, Capone reported that they came at a total cost over two years of $268,000 – which he said was questionable given the times. The lights were part of the new historic light pole replacement, and in the first year there were 255 wreaths put up at a cost of $883 per unit. There were 90 put up this year. The information indicated that some sort of warranty plan reduced the cost to $147 per unit. Meanwhile, Capone reported the City spent $7,100 on the Everett Square Christmas tree this year as the donated one ran into troubles when being taken down. There were also kissing balls at a cost of $12,700, he said. That was also compounded by a $23,000 installation cost from Daigle Electric.

The Council voted 10-1 to send the matter to the City Solicitor as Capone said he was concerned if the state law was followed in regards to the bidding process. Councilor Michael McLaughlin voted against it and said he would have supported more decorations during this depressing year.

Meanwhile, a request for information from Capone that went back to July finally came through and showed the City had spent some $332,000 on public relations services with powerhouse Boston firm Regan Communications since 2017. That included $105,000 for COVID-19 communications work.

“That’s a very large amount of money, especially when the City has a Communications Department,” he said.

“I think it’s probably something we could have done in-house,” he concluded.

No Violations in Napolitano Departure

City Solicitor Keith Slattery reported that the City and the State Ethics Commission did an investigation into the departure of former Councilor Peter Napolitano and his desire to get the vacant Assistant City Clerk job.

That investigation revealed there was no wrongdoing, something that Councilor Gerly Adrien had requested be looked into last month.

“There is no conflict on this – that’s the long and short of it,” he said.

Last Saturday, Jan. 9, the Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee met all day to interview the 31 candidates that had applied for the position.

Only 19 showed up, reportedly, and not all were qualified according to the interviews. Napolitano seemingly had a good interview and some think he has the best shot of getting the votes when it goes before the Council in a Special Meeting Wednesday, Jan. 13.

State Update

Councilor Michael McLaughlin requested an update on ear marks passed in the State House of Representatives and Senate, and how many of those ear marks actually were delivered in real funding.

McLaughlin called for State Rep. Joe McGonagle and State Sen. Sal DiDomenico to come before the Council to address the matter. He said ear marks are simply a wish list, and what is actually funded is often a different story that what is requested and reported. He also said often some people in the legislature take credit for the ear marks of another member, and he wanted to make sure that wasn’t happening in Everett.

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