Gov. Baker Picks Haverhill to Make His Case to the Legislature for Spending of Federal Relief Aid

Gov. Charlie Baker stands before one of the newly constructed, owner-occupied homes in Mount Washington, Haverhill. (WHAV News photograph.)

Bread and Roses Executive Director Yesenia Gil. (WHAV News photograph.)

Gov. Charlie Baker and his team celebrated the construction of affordable homeownership Thursday in Haverhill’s Mount Washington neighborhood.

He used the setting to declare he wants to spend $1 billion of federal COVID-19 aid to support similar homeownership and housing priorities across the state. Standing in the driveway of one of the new owner-occupied homes built along Gilbert Avenue with the help of state and local money, Baker explained the goal of the CommonWealth Builder program.

“This program is designed to help low- and moderate-income families, especially communities of color, build wealth through homeownership,” he said.

The governor said $200 million of federal money currently under his control is to be set aside for the program that successfully delivered the 10 units of new Bread and Roses Housing the site of the former St. George’s Catholic Church. He noted that while federal money has been available for housing, it has not always been fairly distributed.

“For the most part, people of color have either been directly or indirectly excluded from participating in these programs. That has a lot to do with the difference in wealth between whites and people of color in this country,” he said.

The governor said $240 million is to be set aside for job training, $250 million to revitalize downtowns, $100 million for economic development in disproportionally impacted communities, $100 million for “closing the digital divide” by providing broadband internet access, $175 million to expand treatment of addiction worsened by the pandemic, $400 million for infrastructure such as combined sewer overflows along the Merrimack River and $300 million for environmental projects such as culverts and dams.

Altogether, Baker said, he plans to use $2.8 of $5.3 billion of the Commonwealth’s direct federal aid. Baker’s plan partially challenges the legislature’s efforts to create a special fund for federal aid. He returned a bill approved by the House and Senate with his alternative, calling for immediate spending on what he called “urgent priorities.”

Introducing the governor, Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini appeared to acknowledge complaints about the number of housing developments recently approved in Haverhill.

“All throughout the state, we have an incredible shortage of housing everywhere we go. And, sadly, housing is a controversial issue wherever it’s built and however it’s built,” the mayor said.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito thanked the nonprofit developer for the new Mount Washington duplexes and a single-family home.

“Bread and Roses breathes new life into this block as you can see, transforming the property into seven new affordable homes for working families,” she said.

Bread and Roses Executive Director Yesenia Gil noted those who can buy, rather than rent, a home save on average $275 each month. In addition, she said, studies show improved health and academic achievements among young people who are safely housed.

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