PROVINCETOWN — On the Outer Cape, it’s not uncommon for people to be on affordable housing lists for years, waiting and hoping for a unit to call home. So, when an affordable unit sits empty for months or years at a time, it is more than frustrating.
Two tenants of the Community Housing Resource (CHR) property at 83 Shank Painter Road told the Independent that multiple units in their building have been vacant for extended periods.
“The apartments that lose their tenants, they stay empty for long periods of time,” said one of the tenants. “There’s one gentleman who just moved in after a tenant died over a year ago. It was vacant for almost a year.”
The two tenants who spoke with a reporter asked not to be named, as did two other people who are still on waitlists, all concerned that they could lose their chance of getting an affordable unit.
“It really shouldn’t take that long to run all the numbers,” said one person on the waitlist. “These are the places that are supposed to be there for the young working people.”
Ted Malone, president of Community Housing Resource, confirmed that two units at 83 Shank Painter had no tenants. One unit had been empty for several months, after the resident entered a care facility, and another for several years after the resident died.
On Tuesday, as the Independent was about to go to press, Malone reported that papers had been signed for one of those two units.
A third unit on Old Ann Page Way, just off Conwell Street in Provincetown, had also been empty for several months, Malone said, but new tenants were scheduled to move in on June 1. He added that the 85 other affordable units spread across 12 CHR properties on the Cape are full. He explained that the vacancies are due in part to a complicated process the state requires to get affordable housing applicants into available units.
From Waitlist to Move-In
There are 275 names on CHR’s waitlist for affordable housing. All of the company’s affordable units draw from one list to make the process easier for applicants, Malone said, except when new properties open. When the Cloverleaf project in Truro comes online, for example, it will work from a new application pool and a lottery process until those units have been filled.
Initially, applicants state their own income, but if their name comes up, a much more detailed process begins. That includes income verification — checking information with employers, banks, and references.
Sometimes, the unit that has become available has income limits that are too high or too low for the applicant. Someone who qualifies for a unit at 60 percent of median income can’t move into one that’s restricted to 30 percent of median income.
“The reality here on the Outer Cape is that people cobble together a lot of different sources of income,” Malone said. “Too often, when we get to that final determination, the applicant is not eligible for a particular unit.” Other times, when an applicant is chosen, the unit is rejected because it’s too small.
“We’ve had a couple of situations where individuals declined their selection, and then we had to start the whole process again with the next person on the list,” Malone said.
Provincetown’s Community Housing Specialist Michelle Jarusiewicz said there are multiple reasons for delays in the process. If someone on the waitlist starts the process and then stops responding, “it’s not easy to do the necessary steps overnight,” she said.
Delays are made worse by staffing challenges, Malone said. His company lost a key person in December and is down to three staff members: himself, a maintenance person, and a marketing director. “When you’re struggling with a shortage of staffing, the process is just slow,” he said.
CHR had explored transferring property management services to the Community Development Partnership in Eastham, but it, too, had staffing issues, Malone said. “You just can’t find people with the qualifications to stay put because of housing issues of their own,” Malone said. “It is a serious cycle. We have people who leave for other jobs because there’s such a labor shortage.”
A property manager who recently left was the only one of the team who had the authority to certify income. “She’s still the one who is processing our tenant applications,” Malone said. “We’ve done extensive searches; it’s just been tough.”
When units need repairs, finding contractors has been difficult, Malone added.
One of the empty units at 83 Shank Painter is still legally leased to a person who is now in a care facility, Malone said. During the blizzard last January, a pipe burst in the vacant apartment; in the subsequent inspection, prior damage was discovered.
“When we pulled down the ceiling, we found stuff,” Malone said. “I won’t call it mold, but it needed remediation. It wouldn’t have been caused by the burst pipe — it was an unreported leak.” The remediation company would not come for two months, Malone said.
“It was all covered by insurance,” said Malone, “but with the lack of available labor, it has just sat there.”
The company that manages the Province Landing apartments at 90 Shank Painter, meanwhile, claims to have a much faster turnaround time for empty units. The Community Builders (TCB), based in Boston, built 50 affordable units at Province Landing and won the contract to build affordable housing at the former VFW site in Provincetown.
“I usually have approval within two weeks and set up a move right away,” said Samuel Hardee, assistant community manager at Province Landing. “As soon as I know someone is leaving, I start the process, and usually have someone approved before the resident moves out.
“We do not hold units waiting on someone,” Hardee added. “If they can’t move in when the unit is ready, we will go on to the next person.” TCB’s waitlist and lottery are separate from those run by CHR.
“Having a vacant unit is not something we take lightly,” said Malone. “It’s a significant loss of revenue. We have mortgage payments to make.”