FREEPORT — The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to accept a $12,000 donation from the Freeport Housing Trust to establish an Emergency Rental Assistance Fund.

“There are a number of low-income renter households in Freeport who have limited financial resources and are only one financial setback away from homelessness,” Amy Cartmell, Freeport Housing Trust president, wrote in a memorandum of understanding. “It is the purpose of this fund to provide emergency financial assistance that will prevent a family from losing its housing in the case of such an emergency.”

The council will hear public comments at its March 4 meeting before voting to formally create the fund, which will operate for one year on a trial basis. The town and the Freeport Housing Trust will meet in September 2014 to review the program and determine whether to extend the partnership.

Freeport’s general assistance administrator, Johanna Hanselman, will administer the fund. She endorsed the concept in a Feb. 13 letter to Town Manager Peter Joseph.

Requests for assistance must be based on a documented, non-preventable emergency, such as a loss of job or reduction in hours, a medical emergency, or an automobile repair, that has rendered the applicant unable to pay rent. The fund may also be used to help house families that have lost their homes in fires or other disasters.

Applicants must have a household income at or below 60 percent of the area median income and have lived in Freeport for at least six months.

Individual households are eligible for up to $4,000 in assistance. Under certain circumstances, the fund’s administrator may also help an applicant search for more affordable housing arrangements.

“I think it’s an amazing collaboration, truly, and having worked with many folks in this situation, this couldn’t come at a better time,” said Councilor Melanie Sachs, who serves as executive director of Freeport Community Services. “When things such as food stamps are cut, the circuit breaker program was cut, unemployment benefits are cut – this will help keep people off the streets.”

The Freeport Housing Trust was created in 1987 to help provide affordable housing opportunities for the town’s low- and moderate-income residents.

In other business, the council continued to debate the course of action to take with the draft plan presented this month by the Active Living Task Force.

Anne-Marie Davee, chairwoman of the ad hoc task force, suggested the creation of a full-time staff position and a standing committee to help guide implementation of the plan, which recommends a series of infrastructure projects to help improve Freeport’s accessibility for walkers, hikers and bicyclists.

While the council voiced no support for a staff position, and suggested that any discussion of implementation was premature without project cost estimates, it was more receptive to the idea of a committee.

“There needs to be a body that’s getting this stuff on the agenda, that’s driving it forward,” Councilor Sarah Tracy said. “Existing committees have other responsibilities and I think bifurcating it among existing groups will diminish the energy that has been created from this effort.”

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.

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