In an effort to house the town’s year-round workforce, the Edgartown affordable housing committee is looking for homeowners to participate in the Island’s rental assistance program.

The committee’s new “Edgartown Housing Heroes” campaign seeks to expand upon an existing Islandwide program in which homeowners can offer their homes, guest houses, apartments, or other accessory dwelling units for year-round rental. Any renter making less than 80 per cent of the area median income can apply, and towns in partnership with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority will subsidize the rent through Community Preservation Act funds.

Affordable housing committee chair Mark Hess said the idea behind the program is to encourage seasonal renters to offer their housing year-round, converting units sitting empty into homes for Island workers.

“Our point is that they’d make the same amount of money, they’d be helping out a local person, and they’d have more stability with one renter as opposed to many different ones,” Mr. Hess said in a phone interview.

Although the program has been around for 24 years, Mr. Hess said the past several years have been particularly difficult for the Island housing stock. As more residents live on the Island year-round, it’s become harder to sustain basic services, he said. At the same time, Mr. Hess said that recently there’s been greater public interest in affordable housing initiatives.

To drum up interest, the committee will soon send a letter with details about the Islandwide rental assistance program to homeowners in Edgartown.

“We wanted to make the community more aware of an existing program..and hopefully key into this current moment,” he said.

At its peak, the program had seen roughly 100 landlords participating Islandwide, housing authority executive director David Vigneault said. But in recent years, that number has fallen to just over 50. Because participants cannot actually list their properties at market price, landlords leave a lot of potential revenue on the table, he said. Under housing authority guidelines, a one-bedroom apartment without utilities could only cost up to $1,608 per month, far below the going rates for short-term or seasonal rentals.

“On the other hand, it’s kind of amazing we still have 50 or so still participating,” Mr. Vigneault said.

However, there are efforts across the Island to raise that percentage to better reflect market prices, potentially drawing in more landlords and drawing in higher-income applicants, Mr. Vigneault said.

For instance, the town of Oak Bluffs recently rolled out a pilot rental assistance program accepting applicants making up to 120 per cent of the area median income. Unlike the housing authority’s program, the pilot is entirely paid for by town tax revenue, having secured funding at special town meeting earlier this year. Mr. Vigneault said one participant has already moved into a rental, and the town is expecting at least five more later this fall as they ramp up their own marketing efforts.

“Kudos to the town for seeing the reality of need and using their own resources,” Mr. Vigneault said.

Across the Island, Mr. Vigneault said the housing authority is also looking into raising the area median income requirements from 80 per cent to 100 per cent as the gap between market rate rentals and residents’ incomes widens. To get each town on the same page, the change could not come sooner than next year, he said, but there are currently 20 properties on-Island whose ceilings have been raised already.

“Those are real opportunities now,” Mr. Vigneault said.

Although he is excited about these developments, Mr. Vigneault acknowledged that rental assistance is only part of the solution to the Vineyard’s housing situation. More relief, he said, will come in part from the some 140 affordable housing units currently in development through the Island Housing Trust, including one project that just broke ground in Aquinnah last week.

“[Rental assistance] was intended to be kind of a placeholder while permanent affordable housing grew,” he said.

In the meantime, if all goes well, Mr. Hess hopes to add at least 20 or 30 more interested homeowners to Edgartown’s pool, though he acknowledged that the need is much greater than that. According to housing authority data, there are currently 13 subsidies in Edgartown, with 85 renters on the waiting list. Island-wide, the waitlist totals 323 applicants.

Still, officials welcomed any number of participants that might ease the affordable housing shortage.

“It could be one person or it could be a hundred, ideally,” Edgartown facilities manager Juliet Mulinare said.