FAIRFIELD — The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, a partner in the Southern Kennebec County Team, has been awarded a $25,000 design phase grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston as part of the Working Communities Challenge Program.

The six-month grant will allow the team to continue the essential work of ensuring safe and affordable housing to everyone in the community, while building up its infrastructure and partnerships in the hopes of continuing on to the implementation phase of the Working Communities Challenge with the support of the Boston Fed.

The Working Communities Challenge began in Maine last October with a focus on improving life in smaller areas by uniting people from various community sectors around a common vision for change. Through the application process, communities were encouraged to work together and were required to include at least one priority community. Priority communities are defined by the Boston Fed as those with “high economic need and a high opportunity to change policies and practices that are perpetuating the challenges they face.”

“It is well known that the Boston Fed is a true national leader in helping small and often overlooked cities in New England with their challenges. At KVCOG we are thrilled to be working with the Boston Fed through a broad coalition to take a regional approach to our housing crisis,” said Ole Amundsen, executive director of Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, according to the release.

A working group of community leaders from southern Kennebec County came together to identify the goal at the center of the application to the WCC grant. The Southern Kennebec County Team represents the priority communities of Augusta, Gardiner and Randolph, along with the communities of Chelsea, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Readfield, West Gardiner, Windsor and Winthrop.

Core partners include the Augusta Area Affordable Housing Task Force, the United Way of Kennebec Valley, Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, GrowSmart Maine, the Maine State Housing Authority, the Augusta Housing Authority, the cities of Gardiner and Augusta, the Capital Area New Mainers Project, and the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, along with many other partners and stakeholders.

“Last fall, a group of community leaders recognized that the economic impact of the pandemic was steering local residents toward a housing cliff,” said Courtney Yeager, co-chairwoman of the regional Affordable Housing Task Force, executive director of United Way of Kennebec Valley, and co-point person for the Southern Kennebec County WCC team, according to the release. “People living on the edge couldn’t pay rent, the rental relief program wasn’t robust enough, and the federal eviction moratorium wouldn’t last forever. We realized the Kennebec Valley region needed more cross-sector collaboration on affordable housing, and the Affordable Housing Task Force was born. The group has developed bold, creative ideas that would better the housing experience for thousands of people. This Working Communities grant is a true gift that will enable us to make our vision a reality for central Mainers.”

“Housing is fundamental to economic strength and prosperity, robust educational outcomes, civic pride and responsibility, prevailing regional culture, and community health and well-being — all are immutable aspirations of our society,” said William Harper, KVCOG community resiliency coordinator and co-point person for the Southern Kennebec County WCC team, according to the release. “My hope is that this award can help us reduce barriers to safe and affordable housing, thereby ensuring that every person is offered an opportunity to participate fully in those shared aspirations.”

This six-month design phase will allow the Southern Kennebec County Team to learn more about the Working Communities Challenge model, continue to build on its internal structures — including partnerships with stakeholders and the community — and further define its strategies for accomplishing its mission.

The team will work diligently during this phase to ensure it creates a robust and achievable plan, in the hopes to be among the five projects chosen to move forward in the WCC process, and awarded with a three-year implementation grant of $375,000 from the Boston Fed.

KVCOG’s office, located in Fairfield, serves Kennebec, Somerset and western Waldo counties. It also is serving as the fiscal agent for this grant.

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