Two area organizations have new federal resources to help protect residents of low-income communities from environmental hazards.
Chelsea-based La Colaborativa and the Everett Community Growers were among four groups awarded a combined $100,000 by the state Department of Public Health.
The grants, drawn from funding DPH received from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, support pilot initiatives that promote health equity by reducing harmful levels of exposure to environmental hazards in communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The selected organizations will each receive $25,000 along with state technical assistance.
La Colaborativa will use its grant to expand its “Made Up to Code Toolkit” initiative, which provides an app low-income tenants can use to document and report housing code violations.
Everett Community Growers plans to build on a project, begun with six community workshops last summer and fall, to involve residents in exploring how to promote development that is climate-resilient and does not displace people.
“I’m really excited about the new funding,” said Gladys Vega, executive director of La Colaborativa, a nonprofit whose services include helping families with housing issues, a food pantry, and job training.
The agency last May introduced the Toolkit app, developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. Some families have used it, but Vega said the grant will support expanded community outreach about the free resource.
With an aging housing stock, Chelsea has many rental properties with code violations, from rodents to water leaks, mildew, broken windows, and faulty heating systems, according to Vega. But she said tenants often don’t know how to file a complaint or even that they can do so.
“We are trying to educate tenants that they don’t have to accept those conditions,” Vega said, noting that the project also helps strengthen code enforcement by city inspectors, who have agreed to participate in the initiative.
Using the multilingual app, tenants can fill out a complaint form that is sent directly to the landlord and to Chelsea housing inspectors. If the landlord does not fix the problem, inspectors can visit the apartment and if needed take enforcement action.
Code violations are not only a housing issue but a vital health concern, Vega said, observing, “It’s not OK to have mildew because of years of leaky faucets, or to get asthma.”
Everett Community Growers is a food justice organization whose mission is to improve health and racial equity through urban agriculture, youth workforce development, and promoting equitable policy change.
The group’s workshops were part of the ongoing Health Neighborhoods Study, in which nonprofits in nine fast-growing communities — in partnership with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — are seeking resident solutions to ensuring future development promotes healthy neighborhoods.
“A lot of residents in gentrifying communities feel they have no power over local decisions being made about development,” said Kathleen O’Brien, operations manager for Everett Community Growers, and “many want to have a voice in how their communities are responding to climate change.”
The workshops took aim at both those issues, O’Brien said, noting that many residents see a connection between development impacts such as higher rents, and climate impacts like rising heating bills.
“It was amazing to see the buildup of trust and excitement among the participants over the course of the six workshops,” said Nicole Fina, civic engagement and advocacy manager for Everett Community Growers. “In the first workshop people came wanting to learn. By the end, they wanted to act.”
The new grant will enable Everett Community Growers to provide added resources for the workshop participants and other residents to research possible solutions to health-related issues — including pollution impacts such as asthma — and housing concerns.
“We want to continue to inform the community and build that group of residents, involve more people and explore more collaborations,” Fina said.
O’Brien said an overriding goal of the initiative, which her organization is undertaking in partnership with the Mystic River Watershed Association, is to give residents the skills and confidence to feel they can help find solutions to those problems.
“It’s about how to positively impact our community and how to use evidence to make changes,” she said.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.