SOUTHDENNIS — The relief was audible at the Dennis Senior Center yesterdaywhen residents of a Dennisport motel learned their landlord could notkick them out Monday.
The Dennis Board ofHealth voted in March to suspend owner Lalit Gandhi's license for theJonathan Edwards Motel on Route 28, effective Monday, citing a litanyof state sanitary code violations. Although tenants say Gandhi hasasked them to leave, town officials said the 30 or so residents haverights and more time.
"I have at least some time to figure out where I'm going to go," said Carol Craghead, 49, a Jonathan Edwards Motel resident.
Townofficials also have formed a team to enforce regulations prohibitingthe use of motels as long-term housing. But yesterday they promisedresidents that their intention was not to force them from their homesbut to make the motel owners comply with health and buildingregulations.
More than two dozen people cameto the senior center on Route 134 yesterday to learn what other optionsare available to them. Most, but not all, live in the dilapidated62-year-old motel.
But the residents have adaunting challenge in finding another place to live if they areeventually evicted legally. So-called affordable housing is not alwaysaffordable or available for people of the lowest incomes, housingexperts said this week.
There is little moneyright now to help people in search of transitional or permanentaffordable housing, Allison Rice, vice president of program operationsfor the Hyannis-based Housing Assistance Corp., said Tuesday. Althoughthe definition of affordable housing varies, the rule of thumb is thatit must be affordable to a household earning 80 percent or less of anarea's median income, Rice said.
For ahousehold of four in Barnstable County that 80 percent figure equals$62,100, Cape Cod Commission affordable housing specialist PaulRuchinskas said yesterday. Some residents of the Jonathan Edwards earnless than a third of that, according to what they told the Times.
Amore refined definition of "affordable" is housing that costs ahousehold no more than 30 percent of its income, Ruchinskas said. Eventhat doesn't allow many low-income residents to buy or rent a home onCape Cod, he said.
Motels are popular withpeople who want to pay one bill for rent, cable television, phone andutilities, Rice said. And motels don't usually require the first- andlast-month's rent and a security deposit up front, she said. The priceof the rooms at the Jonathan Edwards — between $100 and $200 a week —does not come close to what it would cost to rent a suitable home for afamily, Rice said.
"On the surface $200 aweek translates into about an $800 a month housing unit," Rice said."You're not going to find many of those on the Cape."
Additionallythe waiting list for subsidized housing certificates at the HousingAssistance Corp. alone is more than 2,000 applicants long, Rice said.
Despitethe odds, an army of housing advocates and other social serviceagencies stood ready yesterday at the senior center to help withapplications and information.
MaureenRivieccio, her boyfriend and their 3-year-old daughter cannot affordmore than they are paying for their two rooms at the Jonathan Edwards,she said yesterday. The couple brings in $1,962 a month and pays $900for their rooms at the motel, well above 30 percent of their incomes.
TheDennis Housing Authority told Rivieccio that she would have a bettershot of getting into an emergency affordable housing unit in Harwich orChatham, she said. Knowing that her family would not be kicked out soonwas a relief, but the uncertain future was still stressful, she said.
"She's my main concern," she said pointing at her daughter.
Dennis police Lt. Peter Benson reassured the tenants yesterday that the department does not assist in illegal evictions.
"Oftentimesin landlord-tenant issues the landlord tries to use the policedepartment as the stick that they are going to hit somebody over thehead with," Benson said. .
There is also alaw against landlords locking residents out unlawfully or shutting offutilities, Benson said. Residents should call the police if thathappens, he said.
While the motel was out ofsync with building and zoning regulations, the town hoped yesterday'sgathering would help find housing for all residents of the motel, saidDennis Selectman Wayne Bergeron.
"The town's issues are with the property owners themselves," he said.