How will Manchester spend $43 million in federal COVID relief?

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Manchester City Hall. Photo/Dan Tuohy, NHPR

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The city of Manchester will receive over $43 million dollars in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The money comes with federal guidance, but could fund things like improving public health, investment in city infrastructure and replacement of lost revenue from the pandemic. 

Highlights From Manchester’s Spending Plan:

  • $13.6 million for community health and reducing violent crime
  • $5 million for water and sewer infrastructure projects
  • $3 million for affordable housing

NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig about her proposal for how these funds should be spent.

Rick Ganley: Housing seems to be one of your major priorities here. Your proposal includes an affordable housing trust fund of $3 million over the next five years. That would also extend a newer grant-funded city position aimed at providing housing solutions for another five years. So what type of projects would this fund support?

Joyce Craig: These funds coming into the City of Manchester provide a unique opportunity for us to recover from COVID-19 and build a stronger economy. And as you mentioned, we are specifically focusing on affordable housing and homelessness, which is a situation that we’re encountering here in the city of Manchester, in our entire state, as you know, and throughout the country. So we’ve allocated $3 million to the Affordable Housing Trust to increase the number of affordable housing, transitional and supportive housing units in the city of Manchester. We’re also providing landlords who want to make improvements to their properties, to their apartments, grants to do so, as long as they make a commitment to keep those units affordable. It’s critical that we increase the number of units and the quality of units in the city of Manchester so that our residents can afford to live here.

Rick Ganley: Well, how would it increase the number of units?

Joyce Craig: So right now, we have developers who are looking at doing projects in the city of Manchester. They would be able to apply for these funds as long as what they’re building are affordable units. We also have non-profits in the city of Manchester who are looking to expand housing opportunities in their buildings. And again, those are opportunities that are available with these. And we have individuals who are looking at multi-unit buildings in the city of Manchester, and these funds could be utilized to help those individuals purchase the buildings, and again, as long as those apartments remain affordable for a certain number of years.

Rick Ganley: Now, part of this plan includes a program aimed at reducing violent crime in Manchester. You’re proposing to increase police foot patrols. Would these patrols be targeted in any particular part of the city?

Joyce Craig: Yeah. So this is a really unique program that was developed by the health department in conjunction with the police department. It’s an evidence-based program. There are a number of things. As you mentioned, there’s additional foot patrol. There will be additional resources that prevent violent crime and help the police department solve cases sooner. And what’s really unique here is that we are suggesting adding community health workers in neighborhoods throughout the city to really address health concerns in our neighborhoods and respond to calls that don’t necessarily need a police officer to respond to those. And so this program is very comprehensive and includes many facets.

Rick Ganley: Well, I do want to talk about that additional 13 community health workers that you would like to hire. But the latest city budget includes funding from a separate federal grant that will go toward hiring another 10 police officers. The city is establishing two new substations near downtown. Overall, though, crime in Manchester, including violent crime, has been on the decline in the last five years, if I understand correctly. So why the focus on increasing police presence in the city?

Joyce Craig: So you’re right, crime is down for the fifth consecutive year. Violent crime is down 25 percent since the start of this year, and gun crime is actually down approximately 40 percent compared to last year. So we are seeing a decrease in crime, which is exactly what we need in the city of Manchester. We also know for the size of our city, though, we’re not where we need to be for the complement of police officers.

And so the last three years, our board has taken a vote to increase the number of officers who are working within the city of Manchester. It’s critical that we continue to do that. And we’ve worked closely with our police department here to increase the annual training for our officers from eight to 40 hours. They’re focusing on de-escalation, use of non-lethal force, implicit bias and cultural responsiveness. And we’re working to make MPD more accessible to our community. And they’re making intentional efforts to get back into the community and provide foot patrol and community resources to address crimes in our neighborhoods.

Rick Ganley: The plan here also calls, as you alluded to, hiring an additional 13 community health workers to respond to non-urgent police calls. That’s one for each city ward and one to work specifically, in fact, with seniors. Can you tell me how these workers would be deployed to these non-urgent situations and, you know, is reducing policing overall in those situations part of the goal?

Joyce Craig: Absolutely. It’ll be a coordinated effort with the health department and the police department. Obviously, they’ll be training there. We’ve had success through this pandemic by hiring community health workers in neighborhoods to increase awareness of vaccinations, for example. There’s trust in these individuals, in the neighborhoods they live in. They speak the languages in those neighborhoods. And we’re looking to do the same thing with these community health workers on a different level to provide knowledge and services and connections to a plethora of issues and situations that neighbors may not be aware of. And so, again, it’s these positions will be under the health department, but we’ll be working in collaboration with the police department.

Rick Ganley: Now, the majority of this plan is focused on community health and infrastructure. There’s not a lot of funding going toward education or help for substance use disorders, for example. I know there’s federal guidance on how this money can be spent, but how did you decide which issues to prioritize?

Joyce Craig: So we worked with our community, with the non-profits. We did a survey early on, worked with our department heads. So [we] did an awful lot of research outreach into the community. The school district in the city of Manchester is receiving $58 million in ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief) funds. They’ve received other funds as well. And so we’re waiting for the information to come from the superintendent on that front. But they have adequate funds to address the needs of the school district from the federal funds that they’re receiving. We also know that there are significant funds coming from the state and federal government focused on substance use disorder and mental health. So what we tried to do was focus on understanding the needs of our community that weren’t being funded and to implement programs that will prevent and help our community as we move forward.

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Mary McIntyre & Rick Ganley