Williamstown Housing Trust sets parameters for emergency mortgage assistance program

WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts – The city’s Affordable Housing Trust board on Wednesday finalized parameters for an emergency mortgage assistance program it is developing to help residents affected by the COVID pandemic. 19.

Like the Williamstown Emergency Rental Assistance Program, created by the council last summer, the new program will provide grants of up to $ 15,000 to help homeowners economically affected by the pandemic stay in their homes. them.

Like the Emergency Rental Program, Emergency Mortgage Grants will be administered by Berkshire Housing Development Corp. of Pittsfield, who will select applicants based on their eligibility and needs.

The seven-person board of trustees on Wednesday authorized a three-member subcommittee to communicate the board’s decisions about the program to BHDC, sign an agreement, and put the program online so it can begin accepting the program. requests.

Administrator Daniel Gura, a member of that subcommittee that built the program with the Pittsfield nonprofit, said he expects the final agreement to be signed before the meeting of April of the administrators.

Gura, Stanley Parese and Ruth Harrison on Tuesday asked their colleagues a series of questions that needed to be answered about the rules of the program so that Berkshire Housing could implement the board’s preferences in the final guidelines.

The first question on the table was whether the council wanted to set a figure for the assessed value of homes that could receive grants without further consultation between the council and BHDC.

President Thomas Sheldon, noting that the council will ultimately have a limited amount of resources to fund the aid program, advocated setting a cap of around $ 300,000, roughly equal to the price median of single-family homes in the city. Sheldon said he wouldn’t rule out grants to homeowners with more expensive homes, but wanted to have a board-level conversation if applicants came with homes rated above that level.

“If Berkshire Housing receives an application for a house valued at $ 250,000, then one at $ 225,000, then one at $ 275,000, then an application for a house valued at $ 500,000, then At that point, if you ask me if I support this, I would say based on the track record so far, I’d rather have our cap lower than that, “Sheldon said.” That would make me resist the idea of ​​supporting a request when there is enough experience to suggest that there is a need at a lower rated value.

“But if the first [application] in between and it’s $ 475,000 and no one else shows up, it’s a different scenario. “

Gura said he believes the trust can rely on the experts at Berkshire Housing to assess applicants’ needs.

“The need is the need,” he said. “Saving money to help someone who might be more needy in the future is problematic. If Berkshire Housing has someone at $ 475,000 [assessed value] who needs, and we fear it will take our [grant budget] to zero, I say: So be it.

“I think our goal should be to get it out as quickly as possible to as many people as possible who need it. If that means we’re making eight [grants] instead of 10, so be it. “

The council decided to ask BHDC to prioritize applicants according to need and provide data on the assessed value of the homes attached to the grants, but it has not, so far, set a cap. to this value.

The council also made a final decision on the $ 15,000 limit for grants on Wednesday after hearing comments from local lenders that grants at that level would make a significant difference to homeowners whose mortgages are forborne.

In a subsequent vote, the trustees decided to allow multiple grants to a single homeowner, but to request a conversation between Berkshire Housing and the council if an individual’s second or third request carried the full amount of their funds. over $ 15,000.

The council had considered introducing a “means test” in its grant application to exclude applicants whose income could have been affected by the pandemic, but who still have cash (savings, investments not intended for retirement, etc. .) that could be exploited. settle mortgage payments.

But on Wednesday, he decided, based on advice from Berkshire Housing, that the nonprofit already had procedures in place to address the issue.

“They have no desire to give money to someone who has a million dollar brokerage account,” Parese said of BHDC. “I would ask them to make this decision as they see fit rather than pick a line.”

Since the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program is funded by trust funds generated by the Community Preservation Act, the council decided to restrict applicants to people earning 100% of the area’s median income – a basic requirement for expenses of all CPA housing funds.

Administrators hope that the emergency mortgage assistance program will reflect WERAP in the administrative fees that Berkshire Housing will charge for running the program. In the case of the rental program, this fee represents 15% of the funds awarded to applicants. City council voted on Wednesday to allow its subcommittee to sign a contract setting the administrative fee at 15%.

He also voted to transfer $ 30,000 from the trust account to Berkshire Housing to start the emergency mortgage assistance program.

Money the trust spends on emergency mortgage and emergency rental assistance programs is reimbursable by the federal government. VSoronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act fund.

On Wednesday, administrators discussed submitting a demand to the city (a transfer for CARES Act refunds) to replenish the $ 34,556 in WERAP funds that have been dispersed or are being dispersed by Berkshire. Housing. This emergency rental assistance program currently has a balance of $ 13,444, Liz Costley told the board of directors on Wednesday evening.

The city has informed the trust that it can offer repayments with funds from the CARES Act until December 31, 2021. After that, either of the emergency aid programs will need to respond on all CAP funds allocated to the Affordable Housing Trust ahead of the June city annual meeting.

“The repercussions of COVID will extend into the future,” noted Sheldon. “It’s going to be a fact of life for at least a few years.”

Keywords: affordable housing trust,


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