Rent assistance program shored up, short term
Housing officials say they are making progress in securing funding for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority's rental assistance program.
On October 30, two days before rents were due, the Island Affordable Housing Fund notified the housing authority that it would not be able to provide payment for the 45 landlords and tenants who depend on the program for subsidized rent payments. Without the subsidies, tenants may be in danger of losing their housing.
Housing authority executive director David Vigneault said that so far that has not happened. "Nobody's kicking anybody out, nobody got evicted," he said. After nearly two weeks of dealing with the crisis, he said Tuesday was the first day he has been heartened since what he termed the "debacle" began.
Both Edgartown and West Tisbury have taken steps toward making up the shortfall using their housing trust funds.
"Edgartown jumped right in, and West Tisbury was right behind them," said Mr. Vigneault. "They both have a bit of funding there."
Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, where most of the tenants in the program live, do not have housing trust funds. But a public hearing is planned November 24 to discuss whether federal block grant money returned to a housing energy renovation program in those two towns might be used to meet the rental assistance program's obligations.
"By the end of the day, we knew that four towns have possibilities that they are engaged in," Mr. Vigneault said. Town money would likely be used to cover rental subsides in December and January. "I'm pretty heartened about December and January, with the town intervention."
The housing authority used its limited line of credit to pay the November subsidies. Mr. Vigneault is confident that the housing fund will eventually cover November, allowing the housing authority to pay back the money it borrowed.
Housing fund executive director Ewell Hopkins said he has begun short-term fundraising programs to get through the crisis.
"I think there's been a lot of good progress in two weeks," Mr. Hopkins said. "We're planning on making a payment, not a complete payment, to the housing authority on Friday. I'm not confident that we'll make the November payment in full this Friday, but we'll put a pretty good dent in it. By the end of the December, we'll be in a place where we're current."
Beyond January, however, the rental assistance program remains tenuous.
"We need to come up with long-term, systemic solutions, beyond just fundraising," Mr. Hopkins said. "That is really where my focus is. How do we make sure we don't have this every four or five months? Fundamentally, to shore up the program long-term, we need more fundraising and we need to secure more public monies. A large percentage has been privately driven.
"We're in a different day and age. If anything, this program shouldn't be constricting, this program needs to double. The wait list is phenomenal. It can't be $30,000 here and $30,000 there."
Mr. Vigneault said that the short-term proposals forming within each town will give the housing fund what it needs most. "The town support, if it comes in those four towns, gives them time," he said. "The tenants and their landlords need time. It was just the cruelest thing I can imagine. We purport to be helping, and we add to the stress. We tell not one but two groups that their housing and their income is not guaranteed."
More than 100 Island families remain on a wait list to secure subsidized rentals. Given the current financial uncertainty, the housing authority is not taking anyone from those lists.
"How could we be taking people off the wait list when we can't pay for the people we have now?" Mr. Vigneault said.
The exception may be Edgartown. The town has indicated that it intends to double the amount it contributes to the program. If the increased amount is approved, it may allow three or four new families to find subsidized housing.