IAHF provides a portion of subsidy payments
The Island Affordable Housing Fund provided half the money needed to fund subsidies in the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (RHA) rental assistance program Friday. The money will cover November subsidies for about 45 tenants and landlords in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury. Ewell Hopkins, the fund's new executive director, anticipates he can provide the rest of the money today, to cover subsidy payments that were missed on November 1.
The fund has been providing approximately $23,000 each month toward the program. That money was raised through a variety of fundraising efforts, including the fund's summer telethon.
Island towns are moving quickly to fill the gap created since the housing fund notified the RHA that, because donations fell substantially over the past year, there was no money available for the rental subsidies, beginning in November, near the mid-point of the RHA fiscal year. Housing officials are optimistic that the towns can cover subsidies for December and January.
A look at the books
Mr. Hopkins said the Housing Fund is currently conducting an extensive internal review of its accounting, but he forcefully defends the integrity of the organization.
"It's not a question of where did all the money go," Mr. Hopkins said. "It's a matter of how much money was there to begin with. I don't think there have been enough frank conversations about what can and can't be supported."
Mr. Hopkins said that the public perception, and to some extent the perception of the directors, that IAHF is in sound financial condition are based on internal fundraising reports. "I have full access to information, and I had an uncompromised view," he said. "I have a fantastic staff that knows the intimacy of what's going on. They presented me the numbers unemotionally, and looked at it together.
"I could see at that point I needed to alert my volunteer board." Mr. Hopkins said that he told the board, "Even though you have been comforted and told things you wanted to hear, I'm telling you something different."
After reviewing IAHF records, Mr. Hopkins is confident that all public and private money is accounted for, but he questions the way some donations were recorded.
"Accounting practices were stretched," Mr. Hopkins said. "There was never an accounting of funds that wasn't real. There was no overstatement of funds, no illegalities taking place."
Abelson & Company of Salem is currently finishing and independent audit of IAHF finances. Mr. Hopkins hopes to have that audit ready for the organization's annual end-of-year report, which is distributed to the public.
Show me the money
In their regular meeting Monday, the Edgartown selectmen demanded a better accounting of IAHF donations and distributions. Their comments came during an appeal from the town's housing trust fund to provide up to $10,000 to fund the rental subsides for Edgartown families. Board co-chairman Janet Hathaway, representing the housing trust fund, said the board had voted in favor of the additional payment. The selectmen eventually voted unanimously to approve the expenditure, but not before posing some pointed questions.
"You guys need to be asking for an independent audit of this group," selectman Margaret Serpa said. "Particularly if you're coming to us for money. We need to know what happened, what happened to that money."
"When they get over the hump and have some money, does that mean that is going to come back and support the people of Edgartown?" selectman Art Smadbeck said. "We're using Community Preservation Act (CPA) money which could be used for other things. If they start up with the subsidy again, those dollars should be the first to replace the CPA money."
Selectmen were also concerned about how the rental assistance program will be funded after January.
"I don't know, is the honest answer," Ms. Hathaway said. "We would like to say we could help further, but we had some questions at the committee level that we hope to answer next week."
Later today, Oak Bluffs selectmen are scheduled to discuss whether federal block grant money can be used to fill the subsidy gap for residents of Oak Bluffs and Tisbury. A successful loan program for energy related home improvements has about $30,000 in an account for returned loans. That money may fit the criteria for housing assistance, one of the needs the returned money may be allocated to, under federal block grant guidelines.
While housing officials are optimistic that rental subsidies will be paid for November, December, and January, the future beyond that is uncertain. David Vigneault, executive director of the RHA, foresees a greatly reduced role for the IAHF, and an increasing role for individual towns.
"We're not quite over what happened," Mr. Vigneault said, "to bear down on what the future holds. It will be very different," he said of the fund's support of the program. "It will be largely, from our perspective, a town program."
Ms. Hathaway agrees. "I don't see them coming back to the rental (assistance) program," she said.
Mr. Hopkins guaranteed that IAHF participation will be different, but not in the way others see it. "It will not be at the same level," he said. "We'll be at a higher level. I think the community is going to rally. The funds that we receive are going to be directed in that way. I have a firm belief that the goodwill in this community is going to be directed to shelter and housing."
But so far, Mr. Hopkins said, donations earmarked for the rental assistance program have been considerably less than he had hoped. "I haven't seen that yet in the numbers," he said. "I've heard it in the rhetoric, and I have received some donations. I expect to see more grassroots donations."