A Fresh Start Sober Living residence in Bangor is shown in 2020. Fresh Start, which runs sober living residences around the Bangor area, was one of a handful of organizations that have received money from Penobscot County's latest distribution of federal COVID relief funds. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Penobscot County has awarded $3.5 million to four organizations from its $29.5 million pot of federal COVID relief funds, with the largest grant addressing housing needs in the county.

It is the third round of grants from the funds Penobscot County received through the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed last year.

The groups also are seeking COVID relief funds from the city of Bangor, which has not yet awarded the more than $20 million it received as part of the same congressional package. Councilors were scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the requests and could act on them as early as next week.

The largest grant of $2.2 million in the most recent round of awards from Penobscot County went to Penquis, a community action organization that serves low-income residents. As part of that award, the organization will spend $1.25 million on a 46-unit low-income apartment project in Millinocket and about $557,000 to purchase single-family homes in foreclosure and repurpose them as workforce housing. In addition, Penquis will use $370,000 to replace four homes that are currently considered uninhabitable.

Penquis is seeking an additional $540,000 from the city for its 115-unit Milford Street project near Mary Snow School in Bangor.

County commissioners also awarded $600,000 to Fresh Start Sober Living, which operates a dozen recovery homes with more than 90 beds in Greater Bangor. The organization will use the money to pay down debt on the homes.

Fresh Start is asking city councilors to approve nearly $400,000. It would use $10,000 to provide Maine Association of Recovery Residences certification training for house managers, $50,000 to purchase a vehicle for required house maintenance and $336,100 for energy efficiency building upgrades.  

The Maine Discovery Museum will use its $500,000 award to help pay for the replacement of its outdated heating and cooling system at the popular children’s museum in the former Freese’s Department Store in downtown Bangor. The museum has asked the city to match the county’s grant to pay for the upgrades.

The Bangor Public Library will use $100,000 in county COVID relief funds to address the needs of patrons who seek shelter in the library. The library is seeking more than $240,000 from the city to help with that effort and beef up its security. The library is one of the few public buildings in the city where the growing homeless population can seek shelter.

The first round of county American Rescue Plan Act funds was awarded in August and totaled about $200,000 and went to organizations tackling mental illness, substance use disorder and hunger.

The county distributed nearly $2 million to half a dozen organizations as part of a second round in October, with the largest grant, $1.067 million, going to the hospital in Millinocket so it can be better prepared for the next health crisis.