March rental funds set, but not April's
The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority cobbled together funds from several sources to make rental assistance program subsidy payments for March, but April, May, and June remain a month-to- month situation, according to executive director David Vigneault.
The program provides subsidies to landlords who agree to certain terms, allowing low-income Island residents to pay lower rents. Last fall, two days before November rents were due, the Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) said it did not have enough money to fund the program. In the past, the fund has provided approximately half of the funds for the rental program.
In a letter to landlords dated February 25, Mr. Vigneault said he regretted the stress that uncertain funding puts on landlords and tenants. "The Housing Authority, while remaining hopeful, is not able to guarantee April subsidies at this time," he wrote.
The Island Affordable Housing Fund provided money raised from private donors for part of the March payments and expects to contribute more before the end of the month, both Mr. Vigneault and IAHF executive director Ewell Hopkins said this week.
The fund sent a letter of intent to the Housing Authority dated February 2, declaring, "it is the intent of the Island Affordable Housing Fund to provide funding to cover rental assistance program expenses for the months of March through June 2010, in the amount of $81,500, as soon as it is fiscally possible for the fund to do so."
"They've promised it, and they've made good on their promise," Mr. Vigneault said.
The letter falls short of a binding commitment. "If the money was in hand it would be a commitment, it would be a pledge," Mr. Hopkins said. "It would be more than an intent. There's no question in our mind that this is a critical program."
The fund acknowledged that the Housing Authority intended to use the letter as collateral for a short-term loan. The fund provided about half of the approximately $20,000 needed to pay the March subsidies. The housing authority borrowed the rest, with the expectation that the fund will raise more money, and the towns of Edgartown and West Tisbury will contribute more to the program, to pay off the short-term loan. This is the fourth time in this fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2009, that the Housing Authority has used its credit line to make rent subsidy payments. Each time the short-term loan has been repaid by the end of the month.
"It's obviously not the way the program has been run in the past, nor will it be in the future, but it's worked," Mr. Vigneault said.
This spring, town meeting voters across the Island will act on warrant articles asking for a substantial increase in the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds that the towns allocate for the rental assistance program.
The Housing Authority is asking for a total of $552,000 from the towns. That is an increase of 122 percent over the $248,844 the towns contributed so far in the current fiscal year. If the voters approve the funds, the rental assistance program will complete a transition from an entirely privately funded program to an entirely publically funded program. "We're going to know in fairly short order how things look for July 1," Mr. Vigneault said.
Of the 79 rental units in the program, subsidies for 42 are funded by towns using CPA funds. The fund provides subsidies, raised from private donors, for the other 37. Before the financial troubles peaked last November, there were 87 units in the program. The number has been reduced by natural attrition, and the Housing Authority has not taken any of the people off the waiting list to replace those who have left the program. Currently there are more than 100 families on the waiting list for subsidized housing.