Wide Interest In Mashpee's New Housing Assistance Program ***2012 Staff Picks***

Mashpee's new program to help people pay for housing has been popular in its first week in existence. Ten people lined up at the door of the Mashpee Housing Authority on the first day that applications were accepted last week. By this week, 20 applications had been filed. Fifty-seven people showed up at recent information sessions.

The three-year, $300,000 program was approved by Town Meeting in May, funded by the Community Preservation Act. It offers a quick source of cash to meet a broad range of housing needs, from a down payment on a home to a grant of up to two years of rent payments. The housing authority plans to begin issuing payments in July and will approve applications until the first year's allocation of $100,000 runs out, according to Leila M. Botsford, executive director of the housing authority.

The program is limited to Mashpee residents but is not limited to people with low income. To qualify, an applicant can earn up to 100 percent of the area median income. For a single person, that is $60,400 per year. For a family of two, the income cap is $69,000. United States veterans and their families are the first priority.

Brenda Ramos was one of the people lined up to put in her application on the first day. The 59-year-old lived in Falmouth for nearly 30 years, beginning in 1977. Her husband died in 2004 and she lost her job at the Steamship Authority in 2007, beginning a four-year journey of homelessness.

She slept on couches and in spare rooms at a friend's house in New Bedford, her sister's house, and her son's house.

"What kept me going is my faith in God," Ms. Ramos, a member of Cape Cod Church, said.

Finally, in November, she moved into an apartment at Mashpee Village with her daughter, Alicia, 30, who works at Roche Bros. With her daughter's help she can afford the rent of $841. Her income of $889 per month is from the Social Security Disability Insurance, which she qualified for because of worsening arthritis.

"What kept me going is my faith in God," Ms. Ramos,  member of Cape Cod Church, said. 

"The peace and quiet is what I missed," Ms. Ramos said. "Sometimes I just sit in the quiet."

Still, living with her daughter is not ideal. Alicia would like to move to Rhode Island to pursue a new job, but she will not leave until her mother has a stable place to live.

"I want a place of my own so that my daughter can do what she needs to do," Ms. Ramos said. "The Cape is my home."

Ms. Ramos said she will apply for ongoing rental assistance, the grant that is limited to two years. According to Ms. Botsford, a recipient of this grant will be required to meet with a staff member at least every six months to review progress toward the goal becoming self-sufficient. Progress can be shown by increasing income or cutting expenses, or both, she said.

If she receives help from Mashpee's new program, Ms. Ramos said she hopes that a unit of subsidized housing will open up before two years goes by, she said.

The other four areas of assistance in the program are offered as loans, Ms. Botsford said. A down payment for first-time homebuyers is a loan that will be repaid when the home is sold again. Assistance with first month's rent, last month's rent, and a security deposit is a loan that is repaid over several months. The program also offers emergency rental or mortgage payments for up to three months. This is also a loan repaid over a period of up to one year.

"An illness or a major car repair can put people behind in their rent and they need a little bit of help," Ms. Botsford said.

This week, Ms. Ramos learned that her rent will rise on August 1 to $859 per month, further tightening the gap between her rent and her income.

"I hope this [program] comes through," she said. "I don't want to be homeless again."


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