Youth and Family Outreach is hoping for federal American Rescue Plan funding to raze the building 337 Cumberland Ave., left, and construct affordable housing and a child care center in its place. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Youth and Family Outreach hopes to tap into some of the county’s $57.5 million in federal pandemic relief funding to transform a Cumberland Avenue building in Portland into affordable housing and a child care center.

The new building at 337 Cumberland Ave. in Portland would include 60 units, 48 of which will be affordable. The building, along with the renovation of its existing space, would allow Youth and Family Outreach to add nine classrooms and nearly double its child care capacity. Contributed / Youth and Family Outreach

The $18.35 million Building a Brighter Future campaign is a joint venture of Youth and Family Outreach and Portland Housing Authority. The partnership comes after years of watching families pull their children out of her child care center because “they couldn’t find affordable housing in Portland and had to move to places like Westbrook, Biddeford, Lewiston or Gray,” said Camelia Babson-Haley, executive director of Youth and Family Outreach.

Plans call for the demolition of 337 Cumberland Ave. and in its place construction of a six-story building with a state-of-the-art child care space and 60 apartments. The site, which Youth and Family bought in 2019, is next door to the organization’s existing facility at 331 Cumberland Ave.

The organization wants to start construction in April 2022, open the new child care center by April 2023 and have the entire building complete in fall 2023.

“Federal and state investment in Building a Brighter Future will allow the project to be completed on time so we can open our doors to serve more young children and their working parents,” Youth and Family Outreach Executive Director Camelia Babson-Haley told the Cumberland County Commission at its June 23 meeting about the use of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The first half of the county’s American Rescue Plan money was received in May and the second half is not expected until at least next May.

Babson-Haley said her nonprofit, which provides services to greater Portland families with children from 6 weeks old to 5 years, has raised just over half of the $2.6 million needed for the expansion/renovation, classroom equipment and materials, and an outdoor play area. In addition, Youth and Family Outreach is looking to raise $346,000 for an endowment scholarship fund.

The American Rescue Plan Act stipulates its funding be used for certain purposes: to respond to the impact coronavirus has on the local economy, for workers who have performed essential work during the pandemic, to make up for municipal revenue loss due to the pandemic or for investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

Babson-Haley said the project would help reverse the financial impact of the pandemic by increasing the amount of child care and affordable housing options for families.

Once completed, the project, approved by the Planning Board in September 2020, will allow Youth and Family Outreach to renovate its existing space next door and expand into the new building. This would increase its child care capacity from 58 children to 107 and add nine new classrooms for infants, toddlers, preschool and Pre-K.

The organization for more than a decade has had an ongoing waitlist of more than 100 children. Monthly, dozens of people, primarily immigrant parents, knock on its doors desperate for child care so they can get work, Babson-Haley said.

An an adult learning area and career resource space for families also would be added.

Portland Housing Authority Development Director Jay Waterman said the 60 residential rental units will be affordable for households making between 50% and 60% of the area median income, which is between $35,315 and $42,378 for an individual, $40,360 and $48,432 for a couple and $50,450 and $60,540 for a family of four. Six of the units will be set aside for residents transitioning from homeless shelters.

Youth and Family Outreach purchased 337 Cumberland Ave. in 2019 for $872,625.

“We knew we wanted to use our tiny parcel of land in the best way that we could, so we explored various partnership paths and chose to partner with the Portland Housing Development Corporation to address both the child care and affordable housing crisis in downtown Portland,” Babson-Haley said.

Cheryl Sessions, director of Portland Housing Authority, said the partnership, while unique for Portland Housing Authority, makes sense.

“When we talked about working together, we found this synergy. We both have long histories of serving some of the poorest parts of the community in Portland,” she said.

Contributing to the Building a Brighter Future campaign was just one of the suggestions County Commissioners heard at the June 23 meeting. Other suggested uses included Portland Water District infrastructure projects; the dredging of Portland Harbor; broadband expansion and addressing homelessness.

County officials will meet with local and state officials and hold public meetings this summer to get a sense of the county’s needs and how Rescue Plan funding could help. Travis Kennedy, the county’s director of public affairs, said commissioners hope to make recommendations by August and have some short and long-term plans in place this fall.

City officials are also looking into the best uses for the $46.3 million Portland is set to receive from the American Rescue Plan act.

The funding can cover projects and initiatives between now and Dec. 31 2024 and must be spent by the end of 2026.

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