Grant Program to Fund Extreme Heat Solutions for the Region’s Most COVID-Impacted Communities Kicks Off Third Year

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) announced the third round of a COVID-Safe Cooling Grant Program, which awarded $1,089,020 total in 2020 and 2021 to fund municipal and non-profit community-based initiatives in seven eastern Massachusetts cities. With funding provided by the Barr Foundation, the grants offer critical assistance to mitigate extreme heat impacts exacerbated by COVID-19’s uneven burden on some of the region’s most diverse and economically disadvantaged communities.

Started in 2020, the COVID-Safe Cooling Grant Program will once again fund effective and innovative summer cooling strategies in Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lynn and Revere. Municipalities and community-based organizations in those cities are eligible to apply for grants beginning March 1, with proposals due April 8 and funding awards expected in May.

“Shade trees, green space, outdoor splash pads, and other features common in wealthier communities are far less common in Massachusetts’ older urban centers, where housing with central air or access to cooling is also rare. Residents of these communities have been hit harder not just by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by asthma and other ailments aggravated by extreme heat,” said MAPC Senior Clean Energy and Climate Planner Sasha Shyduroff. “The COVID-Safe Cooling Grant Program has helped mitigate these inequities over the past two summers and we look forward to funding another round of innovative cooling solutions in advance of this summer’s heatwaves.”

Six municipalities and 10 community-based organizations in Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Revere, Lawrence and Lynn last year received grants between $25,000 and $50,000. The COVID-Safe Cooling grants fund direct cooling relief, support efforts to build equitable, resilient community support systems, and help these communities invest in strategies that will protect residents from extreme temperatures in the long-term.

Previous grantees have purchased and distributed personal cooling equipment such as energy efficient air conditioners, box fans, and cooling kits; provided utility bill assistance; conducted community outreach and education on heat safety; and made investments in infrastructure such as public water fountains, urban trees, and splash pads.

2021 grantees included:

• The City of Chelsea leveraged its COVID-Safe Cooling grant with additional ARPA funds to distribute over 240 air conditioners and provide utility assistance to low-income residents in need of cooling. Over 700 people in the community applied for this assistance.

• La Comunindad and Everett Community Growers worked together to co-create a community map to identify hot spots in Everett that lack shading and can be used to plan future cooling efforts.

“What has made this grant program successful thus far has been working with organizations on the ground who not only understand resident and workers’ needs, but also have the trust of the community to deploy effective cooling strategies,” said Melanie Gárate, Climate Resilience Manager at the MyRWA and co-grant manager of this program. “The next step is to build off of this trust and implement long-term solutions so that the most overburdened communities are no longer suffering from the added stressor of extreme heat.”

The program has helped identify common challenges that municipalities face while tackling extreme heat, and the policy changes that could protect the most vulnerable. In addition to the grant funding, MAPC and MyRWA will provide technical assistance to grantees, including support with purchasing, communications, providing resources in multiple languages, and one-on-one help to troubleshoot challenges.

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