With taxpayer appropriations, rental housing assistance stabilizes


Now that all six Island towns have voted substantial increases in appropriations for rental subsidies at annual town meetings, the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority rental assistance program is expected to resume helping the same number of families as it did when fundraising struggles began last fall, according to housing authority executive director David Vigneault.

Mr. Vigneault says it’s possible the program could expand.

“In general numbers, we were at 87 subsidies,” Mr. Vigneault said. “With the overall funding, we would be able to resume at level.” Mr. Vigneault said Island towns voted a total of $577,850 in Community Preservation Act funds at town meetings.

Since November, when the Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) ran into financial difficulty, about 10 renters have dropped out of the program, because they have moved, found other housing, or shifted into elderly housing. None were displaced because of late subsidy payments or the uncertainty of future fundraising. But when a participant left the program, the housing authority did not take new families in, as it normally would. Currently there are 77 households getting help with their monthly rent.

There are more than 100 people on a waiting list to get into the program. When the funds voted by town meetings are released on July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, the housing authority will begin taking people off the waiting list and setting up subsidies, based on their incomes.

May rent

The housing authority was not able to send subsidy payments to landlords on April 1, but a timely appropriation from the town of Aquinnah, and a substantial donation to the IAHF meant landlords were paid in full by the end of the month. One anonymous benefactor donated $10,000 to the program late in the month, according to fund executive director Ewell Hopkins.

“Hard, grass roots fundraising, that’s what it’s going to be from now on,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We’ve got two more months to go. Then we have to redefine how we contribute to this program.”

Mr. Hopkins said the fund is committed to funding the subsidies for its part of the rental assistance program for May and June, in full. But, he said, landlords will get paid when the funds come in. Landlords in the program did not get their May 1 subsidy payments.

New directions

Mr. Hopkins is confident that contributions will increase as the summer months arrive, but the roles of the housing fund and other housing organizations are still shifting.

“There’s been a lot of frank and open discussion through the winter,” Mr. Hopkins said. “People understand the situation, they understand how the pattern of giving has changed in this economy.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the growing need for affordable housing, he said.

“The questions have been, how can the organizations work together,” Mr. Hopkins said. “A lot of work has been done to understand the role of all the housing organizations on the Island. Everyone agrees we have to do something; we may not all be on the same page, but there’s no question of the need.”

He said the fund is evaluating where its efforts should be directed.

“Our priorities are the housing initiatives that are going to have the most impact in the community,” Mr. Hopkins said. “In terms of where we go and what we support, the most important thing is to let people know the need. Once they understand the need, they’ll be supportive.”