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Rent Subsidies at Risk at More Area Apartments



Sunday, July 05, 2015
Charlestown — Tenants in Pine Tree Lane Apartments in West Lebanon are not the only New Hampshire residents in danger of seeing their homes become unaffordable because of the impending loss of rental subsidies. Dozens of other residents who now receive the same type of rental assistance find themselves in a similar situation because of how the federal program that provides those subsidies works.

Woodrise Apartments, a 24-unit complex in Charlestown, and Darrah Village, a 40-unit complex in Litchfield, also face the danger of losing rental subsidies and having their apartments return to market rates.

The problem is that Woodrise Apartments and Darrah Village, like Pine Tree Lane Apartments, were developed through financing from the Rural Development Section 515 Rural Rental Housing program. The rental subsidies provided to low-income tenants through that program are available only as long as developers are still paying off their loans, and the mortgages on both the Charlestown and Litchfield housing complexes are scheduled to mature this year.

If nothing is done to extend the mortgages, the rental assistance would end, potentially making those apartments unaffordable to the current tenants.

“All of us would have to scramble around to find another place,” said Jackie Yakovleff, a 14-year resident of Woodrise.

Yakovleff, 88, who is retired following a career in teaching and volunteer service in the Peace Corps, said she enjoys living at Woodrise, a housing complex comprised of single-story units tucked at the end of a quite residential street, northwest of Route 12A in Charlestown.

Woodrise is near some of Yakovleff’s family and is affordable, she said. She pays rent, which includes utilities except for cable and phone service, based on her income.

“I love it,” she said. “I’ve got privacy, no problem with parking. It’s quiet.”

Charlestown Town Manager David Edkins said the Woodrise Apartments are important to the town, which he notes is “not a wealthy community.” The median household income for Charlestown was approximately $45,000 in 2013, according to the American Community Survey for that year.

Attorney Anu Mullikin, of Devine Millimet and Branch, said she is working to find a way to continue rental assistance for residents of Woodrise and Darrah Village, owned by a trust in Lois Roy Dickerman’s name, which Mullikin manages.

Mullikin said she hopes to find a way to sell the properties while keeping them in the program so residents will still have rental assistance available to them.

Rural Development has made money available to current property owners to allow them to restructure the debt or make building improvements so they can stay in the program, according to Ted Brady, the Vermont and New Hampshire director of the program. In addition, Rural Development has made money available to nonprofit developers to purchase properties in the Section 515 program.

Rural Development has not required Mullikin or EastPoint Properties, the management company responsible for Woodrise and Darrah Village, to notify residents that their rental assistance may expire because they are actively working to extend the mortgage, Brady said.

“The folks up there clearly want to keep the homes in the program,” he said.

If they mature on schedule, the mortgages would expire this fall, Mullikin said.

Tenants have yet not been notified of the situation, but Yakovleff recalled receiving a notice that the property might change hands four or five years ago. Mullikin confirmed that a notice went out after Dickerman’s death, when she became the trustee of the properties.

“But nothing happened,” Yakovleff said. “I won’t worry about it until it happens.”

Residents of the 50 units at Pine Tree Lane Apartments, located on an extension of Pleasant Street in West Lebanon, faced slightly different circumstances. Residents there were notified in late March that their rental assistance would expire at the end of the year. The property owner, David Hodges Sr., had already restructured his loan to extend tenants’ eligibility for rent subsidies for one year but indicated his intent to sell the complex.

Soon after residents received word of the possible loss of their subsidies, the Upper Valley nonprofit housing developer Twin Pines Housing Trust entered into negotiations with Hodges and the management company, Concord-based The Hodges Companies, about a possible purchase of Pine Tree Lane and Beechwood Lane Apartments, another 50-unit apartment complex in West Lebanon owned by Hodges. If the two sides can work out a deal, residents would be able to retain their rental assistance past Dec. 31.

Dickerman’s charitable goals for her wealth may work in favor of Woodrise and Darrah Village residents, Mullikin said, because making arrangements to keep the apartments affordable would be in keeping with Dickerman’s wishes. In the case of the West Lebanon properties, on the other hand, the prospective sale would be a typical transaction in which the seller was simply trying to maximize the return on investment.

“I don’t know if the average person would be willing to take anything less than what they would be able to get on the open market,” she said.

Mullikin said Dickerman would have wanted her to work to prevent residents from losing their homes.

The loss of rental subsidies “would be unacceptable to her,” Mullikin said. “She would absolutely not want to hurt people like that.”

Dickerman inherited Woodrise and Darrah Village after her first husband, Edward J. Roy, a Manchester-area housing developer, died. After a full life that included time as a dancer with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes as well as work in the insurance and real estate industries, Dickerman died in 2009 at the age of 103.

She had no children of her own and, as a part of her estate planning, she gave a gift to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to create the Lois Roy Dickerman Fund. The fund is now valued at about $17 million, said Anne Phillips, who manages grant-making for the fund, and would be the beneficiary of the possible future sale of the two affordable housing properties.

The fund has several areas of focus, including nursing and vocational training, hospice, low-income women and children, youth activities and food security, Phillips said. In the past five years, the fund’s advisers have distributed $1.3 million in grants, she said.

She was “a wonderful woman,” Mullikin said of Dickerman. “I hope that her legacy doesn’t get lost in all of this morass of complications.”

“We’re trying to find a way to transfer the property (and) realize value for the charitable organization,” Mullikin said. “The rub, of course, is this is low-income housing.”

The simplest way of liquidating the assets for the charity would be to let the mortgages mature and sell the properties, taking them out of the Rural Development program, Mullikin said. But the resulting loss of rental assistance for residents would be contrary to Dickerman’s wishes, she said.

“That’s the biggest fear that I and my charity have: If we can’t figure this out, those loans will get paid off,” Mullikin said.

The Charitable Foundation would be willing to take less than market value of the properties to ensure that the rents remain affordable, Mullikin said. According to town property records, Woodrise is assessed at $828,600 and Darrah Village is assessed at $1.4 million.

For the short term, Mullikin said, she hopes to extend the length of the mortgage to buy herself some time to come up with a longer term plan.

“That’s where we are now,” she said. “As far the next steps, we don’t know.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.