Local agencies receive $1M grant for housing work

Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2020 4:10:56 PM
Modified: 8/20/2020 4:10:43 PM

Agencies throughout Franklin County and the North Quabbin region will spend the next five years using a $1 million grant to help find housing, especially for people who have been incarcerated or have struggled with addiction.

The Housing Access and Policy Systems grant, which the Massachusetts Community Health and Aging Fund awarded to the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), will cover 30 towns within the county and North Quabbin region. Along with FRCOG, the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority and Community Legal Aid will work together to move the project forward.

Phoebe Walker, director of community services at FRCOG, said those with a history of opioid and substance use disorders and/or incarceration often face barriers to obtaining safe and stable housing, and it can be acute in rural areas where housing is often old and limited.

“Access to housing is an important factor in sustaining a person’s recovery from drug or alcohol abuse,” Walker noted.

The work will include looking at everything from living and working conditions, public services and infrastructure, and social, economic and political factors.

“The project will include longer-term policy changes and immediate system changes,” FRCOG planner Alyssa Larose said. “The project will kick off by forming a focus group, and will establish a housing access advisory board of about 10 people.”

Organizers will consider housing access challenges throughout the region, including connections between housing status, mental health and chronic disease, along with current rental policies, low wages, and high housing and transportation costs. They also plan on engaging landlords by asking for their input while educating them about challenges potential renters face.

The agencies plan to work with towns and cities to do inventories of rental properties and prioritize properties for rehabilitation. Working with FRCOG’s member towns that have passed the Community Preservation Act, the agencies plan to rehabilitate 10 to 20 units, with about half of them deemed affordable.

Additionally, FRCOG will assist any of the 30 towns in either joining the Community Preservation Act or providing technical assistance to create an affordable housing trust, make zoning changes and assess sites that might be appropriate for housing.

Legal services will also provide people with advice and representation when appealing denials, and assist tenants in eviction cases.

Additionally, a “housing navigator” will be hired at the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority to help people with a history of incarceration. He or she will advocate to remove barriers to housing and help with housing searches and accessing vouchers.

“The groups will primarily work with underserved people, but will also be available to anyone who is having trouble with finding housing,” said Amanda Watson, director of the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority’s Housing Consumer Education Center.

The group will continue its discussion on how to identify people in need of these services, since many agencies are closed or have limited hours during the pandemic.

For more information, visit opioidtaskforce.org or frcog.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


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