by Julian Phillips, Freelance Editor & Sarah Wei, News Reporter
Graphic by Amanda Fu
The City of Newton has put $2.5 million toward the Emergency Housing Relief Program, administered by Metro West Collaborative Development (MWCD). The program will cover 70% of applicants’ housing costs for up to three months, with a maximum of $2,500 per month, according to the city’s website.
Applications were open to renters with an income of 80% or less of the city’s Area Median Income, a formula which calculates the midpoint of all household incomes in Newton. A lottery on June 10 determined which families received the financial support. There are adequate funds to support almost all 250 families who applied.
“The idea is that we don’t want people to be pushed out on the street in the middle of a pandemic situation because they lost their home,” city councilor Bill Humphrey said.
Jennifer Van Campen, Executive Director of MWCD, said that the need for housing assistance in this unprecedented time is dire.
“We have some sad and scary stories of people who have lost all their income and haven’t been able to collect unemployment assistance yet,” she said. “Newton is very expensive, so they might owe $2,000 or $3,000 every month. This assistance gives them a break from that fear and, hopefully, will prevent their being evicted.”
The Newton COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Grant Program provides relief to local businesses that have been significantly impacted by the lockdown. The city has received $300,000 in recovery from the federal Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus program.
The grant will provide $10,000 for microenterprises — businesses with five or fewer employees — and $15,000 for businesses with six to 20 employees. The money will be used to help businesses pay for rent, mortgage, wages and other expenses.
Applications were due in May, and grants will be awarded in late June. For businesses to apply, they had to be for-profit businesses located in Newton who experienced a drop of at least 50% in earnings since March 10.
Humphrey said that the program is built off of existing infrastructure.
“There’s an existing federal program that predates the pandemic, which is community development block grants,” he said. “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a special coronavirus package that added more money to various cities.”
The City of Newton has expanded access to assistance with the Newton COVID-19 Care Fund (NCCF), in partnership with United Way and Family ACCESS of Newton, non-profit organizations that are providing support to families during the pandemic. The fund looks to provide financial assistance to any workers with a pre-COVID-19 income of no more than 120% of the Area Median Income who have been impacted by effects of the coronavirus. It is focused on providing support for critical needs and services like food, rent, utilities and medications. The grants have a cap of $2,500 per household, with an average of $1,600 given to every qualifying family.
Robert Gifford of the NCCF said that the grants have significantly helped applicants who otherwise would struggle paying for essential needs.
“It allows them to stay in their apartment [and] continue to have cell service,” he said. “It allows them to keep living their lives and relieves a huge amount of stress and anxiety.”
Applications were open to Newton residents, workers in Newton, NPS students and families receiving childcare in the city. As of June 3, 253 recipients have received a total of $492,000 in emergency assistance.
Currently, more than $700,000 has been raised from over 1,000 donors. Grants are still being distributed among the applicants. To contribute, people can donate online or by check.
Johnny’s Luncheonette owner Karen Masterson said that the fund helped her staff maintain an income while waiting to reopen regular dining.
“It was very well-received by our employees,” she said. “We’re just looking forward to being able to welcome customers back.”