Edgartown rental project invites pre-aps
It has taken almost nine years, but Edgartown has accomplished something no other Island town has - construction of the Vineyard's first significant, municipally developed affordable rental housing for low- and moderate-income residents - and it is being completed ahead of schedule.
Some of the 60 apartments are expected to be ready for occupants in May and all of them should be occupied by July. Formerly known as Pennywise Path affordable housing, the development is now called Morgan Woods, named for Fred B. (Ted) Morgan Jr., former Edgartown affordable housing committee chairman and leader on the project from the beginning.
There was an air of excitement and some tension at a meeting last Friday of a temporary affordable housing subcommittee and five staff members from The Community Builders (TCB), the general contractor and management company for the project, while they discussed the process for selecting the first tenants for Morgan Woods.
This building at Morgan Woods combines two-story townhouses and a one-story ranch apartment. It is one of five building styles throughout the complex. Most of the buildings have cedar shingle siding and each unit has a porch in front. Photo by Ralph Stewart
"A number of people with low incomes will now have a great opportunity here," David Vigneault, director of the Dukes County Housing Authority, said after the meeting. This is the first time that such rental housing has been offered on the Vineyard, he said.
With occupancy fast approaching, the town and TCB will begin taking pre-applications from prospective tenants this Friday, Jan. 26, through Wednesday, Feb. 21. Because the project is mostly funded through federal and state government grants and subsidies, it must operate under government housing regulations, such as starting the application process three months before occupancy, Beverly Gallo, TCB's project manager, said at the meeting.
Everyone is allowed to apply for the housing under the government requirements. "The law says we cannot tell anyone they can't apply," Ms. Gallo said.
Leasing of the project is regulated by many different state and federal laws and regulations, among them the Fair Housing Act, chapter 40B of the Massachusetts General Laws (the comprehensive permit law), and low-income housing tax credit rules at both the state and federal level (all as enforced by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). In addition, the financing programs funding the project have their own requirements regulating the affordability of the project.
Some of the housing subcommittee members also pushed Friday for a durational residency requirement of six months to a year. Several people expressed concern that some of the Island's seasonal employees might apply for the housing when the intention is to serve the year-round population.
Mr. Morgan, speaking for the affordable housing committee, said, "The committee had in mind a person had to live and work in town and felt the number of years should have been part of the criteria."
Attempts to include a durational requirement have been challenged many times in court and lost, Ms. Gallo told the group. She checked with TCB's lawyer after the meeting, and learned that the residency requirement could not apply to applicants for Morgan Woods. "The law doesn't anticipate a place like Martha's Vineyard," she said.
Mr. Morgan and current housing committee chairman Alan Gowell noted that young schoolteachers can't afford to buy or build in the town. They pushed for a special acknowledgement in the application process for teachers or municipal employees. The committee discussed with TCB staff whether a new teacher holding a contract for the coming year would qualify for residency.
Maria Correia, TCB's director of operations and compliance, said she would check to see if a municipal employee category could be part of the selection criteria under the regulations. Ms. Correia also said the residency and one-year lease requirements would likely preclude seasonal employees or residents from applying. Applicants will have to show proof of permanent residency, such as a utility bill or a driver's license, she said.
Despite apprehension by some of the townspeople about seasonal employees, Mr. Vigneault and Ms. Gallo both said they expect the majority of applicants will be current year-round Edgartown or Island residents.
An appeal to the state Department of Housing and Community Development allowed the project to designate local preference for 70 percent of the occupants, the most that has ever been allowed, Ms. Gallo said. "This is a huge thing that they won," she said.
In view of what Ms. Gallo called the "unique nature of the Vineyard economy," Morgan Woods also will allow some tenants with a higher income level than is normally permitted in such projects, up to 140 percent of the county's 2006 median income of $68,300.
"We're trying to reach all categories," Ms. Gallo said. Morgan Woods apartments will be distributed among four income tiers, with 60 percent allotted for the two lower tiers and 40 percent for the upper tiers.
Six units have been set aside for individuals or families whose income is less than 30 percent of the median, starting at $15,050 for one person to $24,950 for six people. Thirty units are designated for people with income from 31 percent to 60 percent of the median income, from $30,120 for one to $49,920 for six. Nine units will be for those with incomes up to 110 percent of the median, from $52,600 for one to $87,100 for six, and 15 units are for those with income up to 140 percent of the median, or $66,900 for one up to $103,500 for six. (See chart for all income categories)
The pre-applications will require a person to name his or her primary employer and gross income for the year and the number of weeks worked. Other income sources that must be listed include self-employment, pensions, unemployment pay, alimony and child support, disability or Social Security income and temporary assistance.
The rents at Morgan Woods for the two lower tiers will be on a sliding scale based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines, or around 30 percent of total income, Ms. Gallo said. Some units will be project-based Section 8 subsidies that stay with the unit, but people who have Section 8 vouchers may also apply, she said.
The subsidized rents for those in the lowest tier will start at $299 for a two-bedroom apartment, and for the second tier they will be $783 for two bedrooms. The two higher tiers are non-subsidized units for which the town regulates the rents. The rents for those two groups will range from $1,239 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,893 for three bedrooms. (See chart)
After the initial applications are received, TCB will create a waiting list for the applicant pools, an Edgartown pool for 70 percent of the units and an open pool for all others. The waiting list for each pool will be further organized according to unit types, such as number of bedrooms or handicapped accessibility, and according to income tiers.
Everyone who has applied for the housing will be given a registration number and ballots will be created with that number. Applicants will have a ballot placed into all pools for which they are eligible, such as residency or work place.
A preliminary lottery also will be held before the main lottery for minority applicants. They will be placed into the pool for which they are eligible. Unit types will be distributed evenly among the pools.
The initial selection for the applicant pool will be conducted by lottery on Feb. 26 at the Edgartown Town Hall. It is open to the public. All numbers will be drawn at random for each pool and will be placed in the order that they are drawn. TCB staff will then begin the screening process for the first 60 numbers drawn. If any of those applicants are declared ineligible, TCB will continue down the numbered lists.
TCB will screen for income eligibility and ability to pay rent or use a government subsidy. Ms. Correia emphasized that it is important that applicants are honest about their income because an income tax return or a third party, such as an employer, will verify it. TCB also will conduct checks of the selected applicants to determine absence of a criminal record, absence of evidence of substance abuse and absence of credit problems.
After 70 percent of the units are assigned, the same process will be used to assign the remaining units from the open pool. After all the units have been assigned and there are remaining eligible applicants, they may remain on a waiting list until appropriate units become available.
Pre-applications will be available starting Friday, Jan. 26, at the Edgartown Town Hall, at the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, 346 State Road, Vineyard Haven, or by contacting the Community Builders at 1-800-618-6502.
All pre-applications should be returned to The Community Builders at the address on the application or dropped off at the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. They must be received by Feb. 21.