Rental assistance for those in need

Emergency money is going to people not under the housing authority umbrella.

Emily Bramhall, executive director of the Permanent Endowment of Martha's Vineyard, played a key role in bringing rental relief to Islanders. - Gabrielle Mannino

Tough times call for public-private partnerships and these tough economic times are pulling the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the Permanent Endowment, and M.V. Community Services together to provide rental assistance for some of the Island’s most vulnerable populations.

In a conversation with The Times, David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, explained how the partnership came together. It started with a conversation between him and Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi and IHT’s development director Christopher Anderson as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding.

Vigneault told them that renters who don’t rent through the housing authority were the most vulnerable. Out of work, no unemployment benefits yet, and payments looming.

Anderson connected Vigneault with Emily Bramhall, executive director of the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard who had established an Emergency Relief Fund.

“The next day I got a direct call from Emily Bramhall and she said, ‘Explain to me what you’re thinking,’” Vigneault recalled. “In 10 minutes, she hears you twice the first time like the Branford Marsalis song. She’s quick and she’s all in.”

Vigneault created an application that’s posted on the county’s website. There have been 35 applications processed and 25 rents of $1,400 have been paid through the emergency funds. 

“All we had was an idea,” he said. “The Permanent Endowment has made it a program.”

In an op-ed published by The Times, Edward Miller and Paul Karasik, board members for the Permanent Endowment, wrote about the generosity of the community, as well as the Barr Foundation, which provided $100,000 for the Emergency Relief Fund. Other contributions have come from individuals, including a school librarian who donated her stimulus check. “There is so much generosity on display here. We are all fortunate to find ourselves on this Island . . . perhaps now more than ever. Nonetheless, many of our neighbors need help in the most basic necessities of life: food and a secure roof over their heads at night,” Miller and Karasik wrote.

The Permanent Endowment is continuing to seek more funding and, in the interim, M.V. Community Services has stepped in and offered some of its resources for renters, Vigneault said.

“Another example of Emily’s matchmaking,” Vigneault said. 

Julie Fay, executive director of M.V. Community Services, said the agency is also providing money for car payments and utility bills for its clients, as well as other resources. It’s not a bottomless pot of money, but it’s there for those in need to keep Islanders safe, she said.

“It’s been great working with David and Emily,” Fay said.

There are safeguards in place that make sure the programs are redundant, Vigneault said.

Vigneault also wanted to point out that the rent money is going to landlords who live on the Island and rely on the rental income. “This is not money going off to off-Island conglomerates,” he said. “People are breathing a little easier this week than they were two or three weeks ago.”