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As the rising cost of housing threatens to push people out of the region, Malden and Medford are targeting a significant financial barrier for renters: coming up with first and last month’s rent.
Both cities have partnered with ABCD, a Boston-based nonprofit, to help renters pay their first and last month’s rent when they find a new place to live. The Malden Start Secure Program started in March, and the Medford Move-In Program began this past summer. Officials say they hope the programs can increase people’s financial stability, improve their chances of remaining in the community, and help protect the area’s socioeconomic diversity.
While the program supports greater housing access, applicants must be able to afford the monthly rent, which can’t exceed 50% of the household’s income. And in a region where the fair-market rate is $1,924 for a one-bedroom unit, and $2,336 for two bedrooms, the move-in programs address the higher end of the affordable housing range, said Roberta Cameron, who chairs the Medford Community Preservation Committee and serves as Malden’s Community Preservation Act coordinator.
“We see this program as just being one piece out of an entire arsenal that we need to address affordable housing issues,” Cameron said. “This program is helping one subset of people, and that by no means takes away from the fact that we need many more programs to help people at all income levels.”
Both cities are using Community Preservation Act funds to pay for their programs. The CPA allows participating municipalities to levy a property-tax surcharge to fund open space, recreation, affordable housing and historic preservation projects. Malden is using $100,000, while Medford is using $60,000.
For each program, applicants must sign a minimum year-long lease within city limits. ABCD, which serves as administrator for both programs, processes the applications and issues the two rent payments at the time of lease signing. The payments, which people don’t need to pay back, are intended to help people hold onto more of their own money during an expensive transition in their lives.
Malden applicants can earn up to 80% of the area median income, ranging from $70,750 for one person to $117,250 for a six-person household. Medford applicants can make up to 100% of the median, ranging from $88,500 to $146,600 annually.
Overall, Medford has the higher incomes and rents, and the cities have set guidelines to reflect their individual demographics. People sometimes question the relatively high income limits, but even people with larger salaries are being priced out of the area, according to Danielle Evans, Medford’s community preservation coordinator and housing planner.
So far, each city has received only a few applications, and some qualified applicants have lost out on apartments for unrelated reasons. But as of late September, each community had a solid applicant who appeared closer to moving into an apartment.
“It’s almost as if you have to have a perfect storm,” Evans said. “You have to have an income-eligible person, and then they have to find a rental unit that they can afford. And when it’s a market-rate unit, that can be tricky sometimes. And you have the timing of the leases.”
Medford regards its effort as a pilot program, and is willing to make adjustments, Evans said. For instance, the city initially reserved half of its money for households making less than 50% of the area median, to boost their chances. Evans said, however, that she’s waiting to see who actually pursues the funds and how landlords react, and the city may explore additional services to help renters.
Malden has already adjusted its program. It had initially planned to pay renters’ security deposits instead, but found that to be too administratively complicated. It also increased income limits to the current 80% to attract more applicants who would be likely to succeed in the program. Going forward, Cameron envisions marketing the program through real estate agents.
“I think we need to make sure that the people who could benefit from the program are hearing about it,” Cameron said.