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Affordable Housing Trust Chairman Thomas Sheldon, with Trustee Anne O'Connor, discuss the potential of a rental assistance program.

Williamstown Housing Trust Looking into Rental Assistance Plan

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Affordable Housing Trust is working toward creation of a pilot program to help renters.
Two years ago, it launched a mortgage assistance program for first-time homebuyers that saw considerable initial interest. Since then, the trustees have heard about a need in the community for a program to help apartment dwellers move to and stay in town.
The group discussed possible solutions at its Nov. 16 meeting, where Chairman Thomas Sheldon reported that he had found a rental assistance program proposed in an eastern Massachusetts town through which beneficiaries would be eligible for up to $400 per month in public funds.
The Williamstown trustees thought a similar program would be too ambitious for the town, but they agreed to see if the trust can obtain Community Preservation Act funds to take a step in that direction.
"We talked about something like [offering] first month, last month and the security deposit," Trustee Liz Costley said.
Van Ellet agreed.
"Even if you tacked on six months or something on top of that — whether you have a contained amount that's available … I agree that first month and last month plus security would be huge," he said.
Among other things, the one-time grant would relieve the committee of creating an ongoing administrative burden of having to check recipients' qualifications during the granting period. It would make the rental assistance program more like the DeMayo Mortgage Assistance Program. Under the latter, applicants are qualified based on income requirements by local lending institutions.
The other advantage of creating a rental assistance program is that there may be matching funds from a private source to supplement the taxpayer money, Sheldon told his colleagues.
To date, the Affordable Housing Trust's coffers have been funded entirely with funds generated by the Community Preservation Act.
"The potential for the match is very compelling when we approach the [Community Preservation Committee] this year," Trustee Stanley Parese said. "That's one of the questions they ask every year, and reasonably so. We've told them that statewide, most affordable housing trusts tend to be funded through CPA money. But based on the prior conversations, I'm sure [CPC members] would not be anything but pleased."
Town and private agencies interested in CPA funds for fiscal 2018 have been put on notice by the CPC that the committee wants to hold to a ceiling of $170,000 for new funding townwide. The deadline for applying for CPA funds is Dec. 17; the committee will review the applications in January and make recommendations for funding to May's annual town meeting.
The trust agreed to finalize its application at its Dec. 14 meeting.
Also at that meeting, the trustees hope to finalize a request for proposals to develop two trust-owned properties and, perhaps, make modifications to the mortgage assistance program.
The former move will advance an initiative the trust began last year with the purchase of building lots on Summer Street and at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street. The trustees have discussed the possibility a developer like Habitat for Humanity might use the lots to build homes that could be deed-restricted as affordable, owner-occupied units.
A working group that includes Parese and Costley has been developing a request for proposals in part modeled on the request drafted by the town's Affordable Housing Committee in 2014 for the former Photech Mill and town garage sites on Cole Avenue and Water Street, respectively.
The trustees last week expressed a hope that they can get the RFP issued in time to receive responses by February or early March.
The DeMayo Mortgage Assistance Program, named for deceased former trustee Richard DeMayo, has been on the trust's radar since applications declined after an initial push.
The trustees consulted with one of the loan officers who helped advise the panel during its development of the MAP about how the trust could spur interest among first-time homebuyers.
The trustees also discussed a number of possible modifications that might increase applications, but they appeared to settle on the idea of increasing the maximum grant allowable to each beneficiary of the program.
"Raising our maximum to $20,000, which [MountainOne's Mary O'Connell] thought would release the floodgates," Costley said. "Fifteen thousand dollars was great, and we had a number of people apply. But this past year we had just one. She thought raising it to $20,000 would be hugely helpful."
The MAP is open to first-time homebuyers making at or below 100 percent of the area median income, as defined by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

Tags: affordable housing trust,   rental units,   

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