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Ayer launches new Rental Assistance Program
Ayer launches new Rental Assistance Program
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AYER – A new Rental Assistance Program initiated by the town’s affordable housing boards is on track to offer $500 monthly subsidies to a few qualified applicants. The application deadline is Feb. 28.

Eligibility is based on income and family size. Annual income must be less than $50,800 for an individual, $58,000 for a couple, $65,250 for a family of three, $72,500 for a family of four and $78,300 for a family of five, according to Alicia Hersey, Program Manager for the Community and Economic Development office, which administers the program

Funding is limited for the first round, with only five slots open, according to Hersey.

The funding source will be the town’s Community Preservation Act, or CPA.

But Hersey hopes to tap government grants later on.

The program provides monthly rental assistance for a year, with extensions up to three years, she said.

Program guidelines spell out what the Rental Assistance Program does and does not cover, including criteria that applicants should be aware of. Hersey said she explains the details when she meets with them.

For example, the rental unit must be in Ayer and the tenant or prospective tenant must have a lease – in hand or pending. The money is paid directly to the landlord, who must agree to participate in the program and fill out the necessary forms. Both parties sign the rental assistance agreement.

Although the rental unit is expected to meet certain criteria in terms of its condition and upkeep, there are no inspection or enforcement provisions in the Rental Assistance agreement, and the program does not include intervention services, according to Hersey.

Per program guidelines, the agreement does not include addressing complaints or resolving disputes, she said.

What the program does is far more significant than what it does not do, however, offering relief to individuals and families who may be struggling to make ends meet and falling short. In some instances, they may have to decide between paying their rent and putting food on the table, Hersey said.

“This came out of a general need” for affordable housing, as well as rental assistance, she said of the new initiative and not only in Ayer.

Other communities have similar needs, she said, citing long waits for housing under state programs and rental assistance via Section 8.

“This makes it clear that CPC money can be used for this, she said. “We’re starting at $500…but the amount can go up,” she said.

Since rental assistance under the new program can only be offered to five families, for now, Hersey said there may be other opportunities applicants who don’t make the initial cut can be referred to, such as state initiatives using COVID-19 funding. It might be somewhat easier for them, she speculated, having already completed the application process, which she acknowledged is “a bit tough.”

Asked if Devenscrest residents might turn to the new program for help, Hersey said that situation came to mind as the program was taking shape.

As has been previously reported, the residents of Devenscrest, a rental complex on Littleton Road were issued eviction notices last year, not for any fault on their part but because the owner planned to sell or re-purpose the property. Many said they don’t want to move and have protested the ouster. But time is running out.

Hersey said those tenants who want to stay in town – with kids in local schools, for instance – might find it hard to balance the cost of new rental units with what they can afford to pay.

She conceded that despite outreach to local officials and state representatives, there seems to be no clear path to address the tenant’s dilemma now, and future funding can’t be earmarked to help them out, she said.

As for the Rental Assistance Program, displaced Devenscrest tenants can apply and would be considered if they qualify.

But the aim, for now, is to “help the most needy,” Hersey said.

With less than a dozen applications now under review, Hersey would welcome more. Besides Facebook and the town website, she also turned to the local newspaper to get the word out. “We’d love people to hear about this,” she said.

Although the new Rental Assistance Program is the one she wants to spotlight now, Hersey also pointed out that the Economic and Community Development Department, directed by Alan Manoian, also has administered programs that benefit homeowners in town, such as grant-funded rehabilitation programs that help qualified owners pay for needed repairs and upgrades, from a roof to a new furnace.

Information about the new program and application packets are available on the website www.ayer.ma.us/RentalAssist or call Alicia Hersey, Community Development Program Manager at 978-772-8220, Ext. 142. To contact Ms. Hersey, her Email is ahersey@ayer.ma.us

Application packets and program guidelines are also available in the Community and Economic Development Office, located on the second floor at Ayer Town Hall.

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