Chilmark selectmen consider Middle Line rent structure

Chilmark selectmen, at their regular meeting Tuesday, reviewed draft management and rental recommendations suggested by the town housing committee and Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA) for the six soon-to-be completed Middle Line Road affordable housing units.

The Middle Line Road project, in the works since 2003, includes six rental units and six single-family houses built on one-acre lots awarded by lottery in January 2010, subject to 99-year leases on the land.

The entire project is located on 21 acres of heavily wooded town-owned land, about a half-mile down Middle Line Road, a dirt road that intersects with Tabor House Road near the town landfill.

Taxpayers have spent approximately $1.5 million for land acquisition and infrastructure costs such as wells, site work and access. In July 2010, Chilmark selectmen accepted a $1,909,965 bid by Seaver Construction Inc. of Woburn to build three duplex rental housing units as part of the Middle Line Road project.

Tuesday, selectmen met with Jim Feiner, chairman of the housing committee, David Vigneault, executive director of the DCRHA, and Todd Christy, Chilmark representative to the DCRHA.

Under the proposed rental plan, a tenant at 65-percent area median income (AMI) would pay $726 a month for a one-bedroom and $890 for a two-bedroom unit. A tenant at 70-percent AMI would pay $869 for one-bedroom, $1,033 for a two bedroom, and $1,170 for a three-bedroom unit.

The Dukes County AMI is $82,400 for a family of four and $57,700 for a single person.

By way of comparison, someone at the 100-percent AMI would pay $1,179 a month for a one-bedroom, $1,404 for a two bedroom, and $1,678 for a three-bedroom unit.

Selectman Frank Fenner said he didn’t expect the monthly rent for 65- and 70-percent AMI tenants to be so low. “Personally I was surprised . . . 70-percent just seemed low to me, then I see the 80-percent, and it seems more fitting,” he said.

Mr. Vigneault said the lower-rent units were more attractive to prospective tenants. He also said rental units will not be designated for tenants who qualify at specific AMI levels, as is the case at other affordable housing projects around the Island, for example Morgan Woods in Edgartown.

Under the plan, people would qualify for various AMI levels and then be entered into a lottery drawing. “If we have four families that qualify for a three-bedroom, at 70, 80, 90 and 100 [AMI], they all go in the hat. We aren’t going to say income levels matter,” Mr. Vigneault said.

“We’re not going to be hamstrung, having to say three units must be rented at 70 or 80 [AMI], and now you need a couple of 100s to make it work,” he added.

Mr. Fenner also raised concerns about the administrative and maintenance fees for the project.

Under the management plan, an average of 10-percent of rental income from the project, or $6,467, would go toward the DCRHA management fee; and 7-percent, or $4,527, would go towards DCRHA administrative fees.

Mr. Fenner noted this did not cover all the maintenance fees for Middle Line. The management plan also sets aside $6,000 for landscape maintenance and snow removal, $1,000 for septic service, and $2,000 for community housing and road association dues.

Mr. Fenner questioned whether these costs were too high, considering town taxpayers helped subsidize the project.

“I am trying to be responsible not only to the affordable housing side, but also to the taxpayers who are footing this,” he said. “The rents are going down and the expenses are going up, and we haven’t even started yet.”

Mr. Vigneault said the DCRHS has recently taken on more responsibilities, including qualifying tenants and performing loan management. He said the maintenance and administrative fees cover every possible contingency, and there could be a surplus at the end of the year.

“I would say it’s a pretty conservative set of numbers,” he said.

“I think we get great bang for the buck,” agreed Mr. Feiner.

Selectmen will not act on the management plan until later this year, when the project is closer to completion.