Mass. struggles to help homeless families

Mass. struggles to help homeless families

By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

BOSTON — By now, Massachusetts wasn’t supposed to have any homeless families.

In 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick set a goal of virtually eliminating family homelessness in five years. The program was intended in part to better detect when families were on the verge of falling into homelessness — and then move in swiftly with aid and support.

Five years later, record numbers of homeless families are straining the state’s shelter system, with about 2,000 families finding temporary housing in dozens of hotels and motels across the state and approximately an equal number staying in family shelters.

For homeless advocates, shelter operators, state officials and, most acutely, the homeless themselves, the maddening persistence of the lack of affordable places to live in Massachusetts can seem intractable.

Patrick and others point to a number of reasons for the surge in homelessness, from the yearlong economic downturn to a pullback in federal aid to Massachusetts’ status as a “right to shelter” place, meaning the state is obligated to find a place to stay for all those who are homeless.

But even Patrick concedes that simply extending the state’s existing anti-homelessness strategies isn’t going to work in the long run.

“We’re going to have to think in some fresh ways rather than just try to do better what we’re already doing,” Patrick said. “I’m really worried about this. It’s not just the spike in the number. It’s what the economy has done to vulnerable people.”

The state already has an array of programs aimed at keeping families from becoming homeless — and getting them back into homes when they do.

One is the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, or RAFT, program, which offers up to $4,000 a year to help low-income families that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. In the 2013 fiscal year, the program helped keep more than 3,000 families from becoming homeless, according to Aaron Gornstein, Massachusetts undersecretary for housing and community development.

Another is the HomeBASE program, which provides help paying rent, utility bills and other expenses so people can stay in their homes. In 2013, that program helped keep an additional 1,000 families out of shelters, Gornstein said.

The state also has the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, a version of the federal Section 8 program, which offers rental subsidies to tenants and developments.

Yet another strategy is to develop new low-income housing while preserving the state’s existing affordable housing stock.

Since 2007, the state has created more than 4,000 deeply subsidized units, including more than 700 in 2013 alone, according to Gornstein.

The state also has been spending about $100 million each year to modernize its existing public housing units, rehabbing and bringing back into service about 400 vacant public housing apartments in the past two years. Since 2010, the state also has helped preserve 10,000 privately owned, affordable, subsidized units that were at risk of being converted into market-rate units.

Still, Gornstein said, daunting challenges remain. He pointed to the 5,400 families for whom the HomeBASE temporary rental assistance is ending this fiscal year even as the state forges ahead with its goal of getting homeless families out of hotels and shelters.
“The longer a family stays, the more difficult it is to leave,” he said.

Boston resident Altia Taylor knows the challenges firsthand. For the past five years, she has bounced from shelters to hotels.

Her current temporary housing situation is ending in January, and she hopes to land an apartment in a public housing development for herself, her 15-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old son.

“This long-term instability has me completely out of character that I’m so fed up and overwhelmed,” Taylor, 31, told a Statehouse committee recently. “If I could figure out a way to pay market rate, I would. If I could own my own home, I would. I would have done it a long time ago.”

Those on the front lines of the housing fight say they’re trying to stay upbeat.

Peter Gagliardi, president of HAPHousing, a nonprofit housing agency in Springfield, blamed the housing crisis on stagnant wages, the off-shoring of jobs and a minimum wage that hasn’t kept up with inflation. He said about 200,000 families in the state are spending more than half their income on rent.

Each time the state chips away at the number of families in hotels and shelters, he said, the problem gets worse.

“We’re actually spiraling up,” he said. “Not only do we have to go up the hill, but the hill gets higher.”

Chris Norris, executive director of the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, pointed to a 2012 study that found that the vast majority of homeless families in Massachusetts are led by single mothers with an average income of $8,727. He said a study of homeless families in the Boston area also found that just 3 percent originally came from outside Massachusetts.

Norris warned that solving the problem of family homelessness “will be time-consuming and it will be expensive.”

The problem has already become an issue in next year’s governor’s race, with Republican candidate Charlie Baker vowing to work during his first year in office to eliminate the practice of placing homeless families in hotels and motels.

Patrick, a Democrat who isn’t seeking re-election, said he hasn’t read Baker’s plan, but he’s willing to consider any good ideas.

“If there’s enough detail to put it in place and I think it’s working, I’ll probably do it before the election,” he said.

Article link can be found here:

http://www.recorder.com/news/nation/world/10032766-95/mass-struggles-to-help-homeless-families

Soaring rents are putting many families in peril

Soaring rents are putting many families in peril

Harvard study finds some in Mass., US spend half of income on housing

By Megan Woolhouse

 

Rapidly rising rents in Massachusetts and across the country are making housing unaffordable for a significant share of families and pushing many into homelessness, according to a study released Monday by Harvard University.

Massachusetts has the sixth-highest median rent in the nation as the supply of rental housing has failed to keep up with the surge in renters following the recent housing collapse and foreclosure crisis, according to the study from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. More than one in four renters here and nationally must spend more than half their income on their housing, a level the report described as “unimaginable just a decade ago.”

“These are troubling trends,” said Eric Belsky, executive director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies. “In this kind of situation, you worry about people’s ability to get into any kind of rental housing.”

The median rent in Massachusetts has climbed to $1,000 a month, according to the study. Hawaii had the highest median rent, $1,300, followed by Washington, D.C., at just below $1,200. And while median rents nationally have risen 7 percent to $861 a month in 2012 from $802 in 2000, median renters’ incomes have fallen from $3,106 to $2,711 in the same period, the report said.

Another study of the local housing market, released in October, found that rents in Greater Boston were the third highest among the nation’s metropolitan areas. Rents in Greater Boston averaged $1,800, compared to $1,300 a decade earlier, according to the study by Northeastern University researchers.

The climbing costs of rental housing are falling most heavily on the poor. In general, housing specialists say, paying more than one-third of income in rent can lead to other financial burdens for families. But nationally, more than 70 percent of families earning less than $15,000 a year pay more than half their income in rent, according to the Harvard study, compared to less than 1 percent of households earning $75,000 a year or more.

As rising rents take bigger shares of income, federal and state governments, including Massachusetts, have cut funding for housing subsidies, such as the federal Section 8 voucher program.

The result, housing advocates say, has been rising homelessness in states with fast-rising rents. A recent Department of Housing and Urban Development report said the number of homeless people in shelters and living on streets in Massachusetts has risen 14 percent since 2010 to nearly 20,000 in January 2013, even as homelessness declined nationally.

In Massachusetts, the number of families in the state’s emergency shelter system rose to an all- time high last month, averaging more than 4,000 a night. The state spent a record $46 million last fiscal year to house families in need of emergency assistance in motels, up from about $1 million in 2008.

Angela Rascoe, 46, had to give up her Mattapan apartment in June, when she became sick, lost her job as a nanny, and could no longer afford the rent of $1,650 a month. She has since lived in emergency shelters, including a motel in Saugus, with her 18-year-old daughter, because she cannot find another apartment she can afford on her disability check.

They are now staying in a state-funded shelter in Mattapan, but the future is uncertain. She has applied for subsidized housing programs offered by the city and state, but waiting lists are years-long.

“I’ve never ever been in a situation like this where I had to go and ask for help,” she said. “It’s extremely hard.”

John Drew, executive director of Action for Boston Community Development, a nonprofit social service agency, said the situation is only likely to get harder for Rascoe and other low- and moderate-income families. As the influx of highly paid technology, biotechnology, and other professionals drive housing prices higher, he said, the apartment building boom in the city is mainly adding luxury units, rather than affordable homes.

“Everyone is sitting back and watching the market-driven economy,” Drew said. “There is no housing policy. Nothing that leads you to feel comfortable at all, to say, ‘We have a way out of here.’ ”

State officials defend their policy efforts, calling them comprehensive but constrained by funding limitations. Massachusetts is one of four states to offer state-subsidized public housing, and this year alone increased the number of units the program funds by 3,000, said Aaron Gornstein, state’s undersecretary for housing.

The state also has built or is in the process of building 4,500 affordable rental units this year, Gornstein said. Earlier this month, Governor Deval Patrick signed a $1.4 billion bonding bill to finance the rehabilitation and construction of more public and affordable housing.

“We just have to keep focusing on helping families access affordable housing with the resources we have,” Gornstein said, “and make the best use of the existing resources that the Legislature has provided to us.”

Kelly Turley, director of legislative advocacy for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said the state has done more than many others to address the need for affordable housing, but rising rents, wage stagnation, and stubbornly high unemployment have outstripped those efforts.

“The state has made unprecedented investments in housing and homelessness prevention and emergency services,” she said, “but at the same time, it’s not enough to match the need to address the gap between incomes and what it costs to live in Massachusetts.”

Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes for Families, a Boston advocacy group, said the state’s efforts have been to put a “Band-Aid on a big gaping wound.” Patrick, she added, has not aggressively addressed the issue as a rising tide of families fill state shelters and motels.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com.

Article can be accessed here: http://b.globe.com/19cxuAX

Mass scrambling to find housing for its homeless

rathe_homeless_biz02GREENFIELD — Record numbers of homeless families are overwhelming the state’s emergency shelter system, filling motel rooms at the cost to taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars a year.

An average of nearly 2,100 families a night — an all-time high — were temporarily housed in motel rooms in October, just about equaling the number of families in emergency shelters across the state, according to be the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

The demand for shelter is so great that the state has been temporarily sending homeless families from Boston to motels in Western Massachusetts, although state officials said many have been relocated back again, closer to home.

 

Read the full article here: http://b.globe.com/189hBdY

Giving Tuesday

Today may be Cyber Monday, but please remember that Christmas isn’t all about consumerism: Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday.

#GivingTuesdayâ„¢ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations.

#GivingTuesday inspires personal philanthropy and encourages bigger, better and smarter charitable giving during the holiday season, showing that the world truly gives as good as it gets.

If you are planning to make a donation to a non profit organization this holiday season, please consider RCAP Solutions. The need is real and continues to grow.  Over 2,000 families are now living in hotels across the Commonwealth. RCAP Solutions works with hundreds of families each year, providing the necessary stabilization services for those in need, in order to keep them safe, healthy and in permanent housing.

Visit our website for more information: http://www.rcapsolutions.org/donate/

RCAP Featured in WBJ Article on Sequestration

RCAP Solutions President & CEO Karen A. Koller KollerWBJdiscusses the difficult impact that Sequestration has had on the organization and our clients in the most recent edition of the Worcester Business Journal.

Photo caption:  Karen Koller of RCAP Solutions: Sequestration cuts impact those who serve “people in need.”

Click here for full article:  Central Mass. Firms Feel Sting Of Federal Budget Cuts