New Bedford Mayor on ARPA Money, Potential Attorney General Run
As New Bedford begins to navigate its way out of a once-in-a-century crisis, the City has been given a unique opportunity through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to not only recover from the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19, but make investments that will have a positive generational impact.
Last week, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell unveiled a comprehensive plan of action on how to spend the nearly $65 million in funds granted to the City by ARPA and the key hires his office made to oversee its implementation. He joined me on-air recently to take a deep dive into the details. The plan leverages the City's strengths while addressing areas of needed improvement.
For example, with an uptick in evictions in the city, an already dire shortage of available housing, and ever-increasing rent amounts beginning to price longtime city residents out of their homes, affordable and available housing has been at the forefront of the conversation in New Bedford for some time.
Mitchell's plan has earmarked $13 million to address this area of need that includes completing housing development projects to create more market-rate and affordable housing, emergency rental assistance, and a new program to encourage owner-occupancy for tenement housing in distressed neighborhoods by offering city employees and veterans grants for down payments on these homes with the condition that they live there for 10 years.
"If you drove down Bullard Street in the North End, if you drove by Salisbury Street in the South End, in those tenement neighborhoods just as two examples, you can pick out which houses are owner occupied and which ones aren't just by looking at them," Mitchell said. "There's a big difference, and the higher owner occupancy we have in those neighborhoods the more stable they will be."
There is one area in particular where Mitchell is hoping some of the ARPA funding can be supplemented by state and federal dollars: the decades-long project of overhauling New Bedford's wastewater and stormwater system to meet the federal government requirements.
Mitchell went into detail about the current stormwater and wastewater system New Bedford has and its negative environmental impacts, the resulting mandate by the government to separate the two systems, as well as the project's exorbitant cost which have been to this point mostly absorbed by rate-payers in the city.
"I think we've made some headway in reducing the overall cost, and we've been able to use some of the ARPA funds to offset the amount of money that we'll have to spend over the next 20 years do this work. Unfortunately, the size of the bill runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "The reality is that the federal government has stuck us with a big bill and our hope is that we'll get some relief from the state and federal government in the months ahead through some of these other big spending bills."
We discussed the other areas in which which he hopes the ARPA money will be invested, his conversations with the New Bedford City Council on executing this plan, and whether or not he'd consider running for Massachusetts Attorney General if the seat were to become open.
You can listen to the full conversation here: