And an advocacy opportunity.
In the early 1990’s funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program was $120 million. Funding for the program was slashed in the 1990’s down to $24 million, and the homelessness crisis was exacerbated. Homes for Families, together with the Housing Solutions Campaign, has been advocating to restore the funding to this crucial program. In a ten year span, from FY2006 to FY2016, funding was increased from $26M to $91M (an increase of 345%!), and $29M short of full restoration.
In FY16, MRVP vouchers played a critical role in the reduction of the number of families in motels across the Commonwealth, in housing homeless veterans, and in increasing the stock of project based supportive housing.
Advocacy began for full restoration to $120M in the FY17 Budget. The House and Senate each proposed about $100M, a solid allocation that would allow some program fixes and new vouchers. Currently, the line amount listed for MRVP is $82,391,587.
So, what happened?
The simple answer is: a decline in state revenues.
The complicated answer is: the FY17 allocation depended on about $14M in surplus – or unspent – MRVP funding from FY16; and all line item surpluses were recouped to cover FY16 expenses
The analogy is: It is kind of like planning to use your tax return to buy X, pay Y, or save for Z, and then your car breaks down or you have to move, and now there is no money left for X, Y, or Z.
The long answer is:
- In FY16 MRVP received an increase of $26M. While this is a substantial increase, much of the funding was needed to maintain vouchers and project based units brought on in the prior year(s) and make program fixes, such as increasing the Fair Market Rent cap. However, there was enough funding for new vouchers. Distribution of the new vouchers did not begin until late fall, meaning that may vouchers were not leased up until the second half of the fiscal year, leaving surplus funding.
- When the Governor released his budget proposal in February, he proposed $82.9M, but also included language in his mid year FY16 Supplemental Budget proposal to carry over surplus FY16 MRVP funds to FY17. This language was not included in the Supp Budget passed by the legislature, but the message was received.
- The House proposed an even $100M with the following stipulation, “that the total amount appropriated and re-appropriated under this item shall include unexpended funds up to $14,652,294 appropriated for this item in fiscal year 2016 which shall not revert, but shall be made available for purposes of this item for fiscal year 2017”
- The Senate proposed $100,083,891 and also included the same stipulation, which is often referred to as PAC language, or Prior Appropriation Continued. The Senate also included language to require DHCD to being distributing vouchers immediately, as one step for more fiscal efficiency
- In June, the Conference Committee was working out their compromises – on MRVP, there was only a slight difference in funding and the distribution requirement to resolve. BUT, then those tax receipts came back low and the Governor had a problem; the budget needed to be balanced, so all surpluses – including the unspent MRVP funds slated to be used in FY17 – were reverted to balance the books.
- The PAC language was no longer relevant, because there were no funds to revert, leaving the line item with $85,083,891.
- Then the bad revenue news continued and the Governor proposed more vetoes, cutting MRVP down to $82,3M, essentially a $7.8M cut to the program.
We need to preserve every penny of this program; we know housing subsidies are the most effective tool to reduce homelessness. Right now, we can ask the House of Representatives to please take the first step by overriding the Governor’s veto. Click here to look up your Representative’s contact information.
“I am contacting your office to urge that the legislature override the veto of $2M to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, 7004-9024”
We will be meeting with DHCD and Housing Solution Campaign members to determine the impact of this cut and what may be possible to restore funding.
Then, we will urge the Legislature to consider restoring the program to FY16 level funding of $90M through the Supplemental Budget process. We are figuring out what is ‘sup with that now and will let the cyber-world know if there are advocacy opportunities.
PS: Since I used the word “slash” in the introductory paragraph and Guns N’ Roses is in town, I will leave you with this – the lyrics that are almost relevant.