WILLIAMSTOWN — As affordable housing advocates, renters and homeowners brace for expiration of federal and state coronavirus pandemic protections against evictions and foreclosures, the town’s Affordable Housing Trust is ready and able to help.
On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a plea from landlords to end the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evicting tenants who fail to pay rent during the pandemic, keeping the ban in place until July 31.
Massachusetts pandemic eviction protections expired in October, but a new law extends hardship protections by continuing the practice of offering temporary continuances to tenants who have filed applications for rental assistance to prevent evictions in cases where tenants are unable to pay rent because of pandemic-related financial hardship until April 2022.
Thomas Sheldon, chairman of the Williamstown Affordable Housing Trust, said that, for families with limited income, there are two programs that temporarily could assist those at risk of eviction that can distribute money to allay their rental- or mortgage-payment crisis.
“Our whole reason for being is to analyze our stock of affordable housing in Williamstown and to ensure an economically diverse community,” Sheldon said. “Without affordable housing, it could be quite possible to have a community less welcoming and less available to different [socio-economic] sectors.”
The Trust’s emergency rental and mortgage assistance program already has helped several residents stabilize their situation with money to get them through a few months, giving them time to catch up with bills and, hopefully, be able to begin paying rent after the aid expires.
For rental assistance, the applicant has to have an annual income of less than 80 percent of the median area income, which is $46,984 for a household of one person, $53,696 for a household of two people, $60,408 for three people in the house and $67,120 for a family of four.
So far, the Trust has issued six grants, totaling $29,300, with the grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
The mortgage assistance program requires an income of no more than 100 percent of the area median income, which is $58,730 for a household of one, $67,120 for a family of two, $75,510 for a house with three residents and $83,900 for a family of four.
Applicants have to have been financially impacted by the pandemic, Sheldon said.
The Berkshire Housing Development Corp. administers both programs, for a fee paid by the town. The Trust is funded with money approved at Town Meeting from the Community Preservation Committee — $175,000 for the newly started fiscal year.
And while there will be some new applicants the rest of the calendar year, the number of families in a position to apply is limited by the low number of affordable housing units located in town. Out of about 3,000 housing units, only about 650 are rentals, and many of those are not considered “affordable” by state standards.
And as the current year ends and 2022 arrives, Sheldon said, he sees the problem growing as more protections expire.
“I am more worried about 2022,” he said. “It’s going to get worse.”