MERIDEN — Members of the Meriden Racial Justice Initiative hosted a press conference on the Meriden Green Wednesday to talk about evictions and the COVID-19 vaccine.
About 60 people gathered as community leaders informed minorities, underrepresented populations and others about the available resources.
The recently formed Meriden Racial Justice Initiative is made up of city and school employees, elected officials and members of nonprofits. The group’s goal is to find solutions to issues facing minorities.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said the city, along with the Community Health Center and Hartford Healthcare, worked together to ensure the vaccine is “as available as possible” to residents. He asked attendees to encourage others to get vaccinated.
According to Scarpati, 60% of Meriden residents have received at least one vaccine dose.
“But that’s not nearly high enough,” he said.
Lea Crown, Meriden’s director of health and human services, said COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Meriden. She said as of Wednesday, for the month of August, the city has seen 190 cases — more than double the cases in July. She stressed the importance of getting vaccinated.
Community leaders also spoke about evictions. The moratorium on evictions has been extended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for qualifying residents through Oct. 3.
State Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, said people of color are more likely to get evicted, adding that 82% of Latino renters, 46% of black renters and 35% of white renters are more likely to be evicted.
When it comes to homeowners, 25% of Latino residents, 19% of Black residents, 18% of Asian residents and 12% of white residents are behind on their mortgage payments.
Funding options are available for many residents at risk of losing their housing.
“We have to make sure that the funding is used because if we don’t use it, that funding is going to go back to the feds,” Santiago said.
Dawn Parker, director of programs at the Connecticut Department of Housing, spoke about UniteCT, an emergency rental assistance program. She explained that there are two portions of money that have been allocated to Connecticut. The first is about $235 million and the second is about $187 million, she said.
The goal of the program is to stabilize the rental housing market. Tenants facing eviction need to work with their landlords on the program. The cap on assistance is $15,000. Parker said that as of Wednesday morning, UniteCT has dispersed $59 million and helped 7,420 tenants in Connecticut. In Meriden, the program has dispersed $1.4 million to 184 tenants.
“There’s a lot more than 184 renters in this city that have been affected by COVID,” she said. “We ask that everyone thinks about people that they know in their lives that are renters, that have fallen off track during COVID and make sure that they know about this program so that they can apply.”
Dona Ditrio, director of New Opportunities of Greater Meriden, said the local agency has dedicated staff to help landlords and tenants apply for UniteCT.
Sonya Jelks, City Council majority leader, stressed the importance of passing along the information about these resources to others because even those who don’t need it might know someone that needs it.
For more information about the UniteCT services, visit https://portal.ct.gov/DOH/DOH/Programs/UniteCT