A Member Update

HFF is a membership organization of family shelter providers; as such we send regular updates out to our membership list.  I tried to send the following update out last night, but our email system is not letting it send, so I am putting it here.  If your program is not a member, please consider joining.  Contact our Director of Operations and Member Engagement, Liz Peck (epeck@homesforfamilies.org) for more information.

Membership Update


242 families in motels


On Beacon Hill

According to the Secretary of Administration and Finance, Massachusetts is facing a $294M deficit.  Per Chapter 9C of Chapter29 of Massachusetts General Law, the Governor is required to make a cuts when there is a gap between revenue and spending.   Agencies are now determining what and where they make cuts.  My best guess is that EA will be held harmless.  I also worry that some of the MRVP funding that was just restored may be at risk.  There simply is not a lot for DHCD to cut – the entire secretariat (EOHED) accounts for 0.73% of the state budget.  Another round of early retirement packages may be offered which could impact the local offices.  I assume the cuts will be announced before the end of the month.

Meanwhile, planning for the FY18 Budget is underway.  From conversations with DHCD, they are most likely not hosting budget hearings, but we will put together and submit recommendations informally.

Homes for Families has often included a statement supporting revenue increases as a means to justify our budget asks.  In a time of economic growth, our spending should not be outpacing our revenues.  As always, we want to make sure that this is something that our membership supports.  Discussions on revenue are heating up – expect debate on taxing AirBNB and related short term rentals; the Millionaire’s Tax is creeping through the political process; Mass Budget and Policy Center is highlighting business loopholes, and many communities have a question on the Community Preservation Act on ballots this November.  The AirBNB/Short Term Rentals something that I personally feel could generate revenues directly for housing programs, but it has also been linked already to justify the increase to EITC – here is more on that from Mass Budget.  More convo’s to follow.  But please let me know if you object to us supporting revenue increases (i.e. tax increases, closing loopholes and/or fees) so we can avoid further cuts and invest in solutions!

The Inter-agency Council on Housing and Homelessness: Family Subcommittee:

The family subcommittee of the ICHH is chaired by Rose and Linn.  The group met for a second time last week.  The meeting primarily included updates on FY16 initiatives – ongoing motel reduction; expansion of HomeBASE to domestic violence and substance abuse programs; RAFT expansion to individuals; and prevention and consortium updates.  Tim Yaecker (formerly of DHCD) presented on the findings and recommendations presented in their report, which EOHHS funded, to analyze the shelter system.

Other important things:

  • Shelter Eligibility Organizing: Mass Coalition for the Homeless, along with other groups, is organizing an advocacy event and efforts regarding shelter eligibility policies requiring certain families to stay in places not meant for human habitation
  • McKinney Vento Updates: On October 17, 2016, the new regulations of the reauthorized McKinney Vento Law went into effect.  Here is a brief explanation from the MA Dept of Education and more information from the National Association of the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.  A blog post on the topic is on my to do list, but in the meantime, here is their FAQ document.
  • Housing Report: The National Low Income Housing Coalition has put together a report on the closed lists, the long lists, and wait times for public and subsidized housing. The Long Wait for a Home.
  • Names and Faces – Speaking of the NLIHC, their director is the keynote speaker at the upcoming CHAPA dinner. Diane Yentel worked at Mass Coalition for the Homeless back in the day. And also speaking of CHAPA – did you all see the memo that Rachel Heller – formerly of Homes for Families – is their new Executive Director.
  • Books: Just released is a new book on family homelessness in the US.  Included is a chapter on Boston and Massachusetts.  Not sure all that it says, but HFF is mentioned, so that is cool (well I hope it is cool, I have not read it yet). It is called Invisible Nation: Homeless Families in America.
  • Congratulations and Thank You to EmPath for a great Conference and for sharing all the slides and info on disrupting poverty.

Your Question of the Month:

Last Question Report Back: First, thank you to those of you who provided thoughtful feedback on the income cap of 115% for families in shelter.  We met with DHCD, with the On Solid Ground Coalition, to discuss this issue. The problems the cap creates for families in shelter are threefold – 1) families find temporary work or are unable to maintain employment but face the 6 month clock despite no longer having the income 2) families exceed the 115% but their jobs are in high rental markets and they are still unable to find an apartment they can afford and 3) It discourages families from seeking employment.  We are in ongoing discussions about implementing a 90 day period of sustained income before the clock is triggered to address and/or waivers.  We also proposed increasing supports to families on the 6 month clock regarding housing search, escrowing, waiving child care co-pays, and other incentives.  DHCD is doing some data analysis of how many families may be impacted.

October’s Question (sorry for the delay in getting this out, as I know you have been waiting at the edges of your seat for a new question!)

We are switching the topic to Stabilization/HomeBASE.  Many of you saw a lot of data today at the DHCD meeting, but we are always looking for more data and more stories.  Thank you to the Policy Action Team members for your help in designing this question:

How are you successful and what are the challenges you face in engaging families in HomeBASE?

  • Do you have data you can share on outcomes at the end of the stabilization period (how many families secured other housing, remained housed, re-applied for shelter, needed RAFT, lost contact, etc)
  • Any data on the numbers of families in your program that returned to shelter after taking HomeBASE?
  • Ways you have kept families engaged
  • Data, anecdotes, cries for help and/or rejoicing in success are all welcome and encouraged!

 Thanks for staying engaged.  We cannot make progress without you!

Until the next one,

Libby and Team HFF

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month #DVAM16

While the month of October is extremely important and symbolic because it offers us an opportunity to acknowledge the presence and impact of domestic violence in our society, survivors and loved ones are living with , overcoming and working to end domestic violence year round.

In the spirit of strength and courage, our Consumer Advocacy Team wishes to share these messages of hope and inspiration with all of you who will be doing this powerful important healing, work and education around domestic violence and it’s impacts on people, families and communities as a whole.

“Something will grow from all you are going through …and it will be you!”

“It’s not what you went through but how you made it out.“

“You are loved and you can make it.”

“There is hope.”    

We deserve to be safe.



– Nilaya Motnalvo/Consumer Advocacy Team

Let’s talk about the 6 month clock

Families must earn less than 115% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to be considered eligible for the state’s emergency assistance shelter program, click here to see the maximum monthly income by household size. Then once in shelter, there is a “6 month clock” for families who exceed the income limit. This rule is written into the family shelter line item in the State Budget:

provided further, that any family whose income exceeds 115 per cent of the federal poverty level while the family is receiving assistance funded by this item shall not become ineligible for assistance due to exceeding the income limit for a period of 6 months from the date that the income level was exceeded

Some things to consider in thinking about this policy:

We have been discussing and wondering, the impact that the 6 month clock has on families in shelter.  We posed the question to our member agencies,  and have heard some varied responses:

  • Questions about the impact of this policy on HomeBASE eligibility
  • Questions about families’ awareness of the policy and consistency of enforcement
  • Direct examples of short term work triggering the 6 month clock, but then having no options or income at the end of the time period
  • Concerns that families report feeling trapped and that they want to work and earn as much money as they can, but that rent will still be unaffordable
  • Programs working directly on individual situations and trying to make HomeBASE or other alternatives work

So what do you think?



What happened to MRVP Funding??

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.

What now?

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”

What next?

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.

– LH

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.

The Senate Amendment Edition

Today, the Senate will begin debating the 1,167 amendments to determine which ones will help to build a more resilient Commonwealth.

We found about 50 that directly or indirectly relate to family homelessness; including earmarks or money for particular programs or initiatives (including one for HFF), others that could negatively impact families or the system, and others that could make a positive impact.  To review this full list, click here.

To review the HFF Priority List click here.

Here is a list of the co-sponsors from the the MRVP and HomeBASE Amendments:

MRVP: Ms. Forry, Mr. Moore, Ms. Lovely, Ms. L’Italien, Messrs. Lewis, Barrett and Eldridge, Ms. Chang-Diaz, Messrs. Donnelly, Joyce, Brownsberger and McGee, Ms. Donoghue and Ms. Gobi

HomeBASE: Ms. Chang-Diaz, Ms. L’Italien, Mr. Eldridge, Ms. Forry and Ms. Donoghue

Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter; we are @HFFma and will be using joining the #SenBudget conversation.  Retweets and quoted tweets are encouraged! Let’s amplify #OurVoice

The SWM Budget and Key Programs Relative to Family Homelesness

The Senate Ways and Means Budget was released on Tuesday afternoon.  The budget proposal, entitled INVESTING FOR A RESILIENT COMMONWEALTHbegins with a message from Chairwoman Karen Spilka about resiliency:

Resilience is most often defined as the ability to achieve a good outcome in the face of adversity. Resilience can—and must—be built on a community-by-community and statewide basis, but there is no more important place to plant the seed of resilience than within our children. Strong, resilient children will grow up to be active contributors to a productive and thriving Commonwealth.

The Executive Summary gives an overview of the allocations by category with some of the reasoning of the committee:

 Stable, safe housing is critical for family wellbeing and the physical, emotional and educational success of children. In line with the mission of the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget invests $441M in low income and homelessness programs to help connect individuals, families and vulnerable populations with housing and supportive services, key foundations for resilience at all ages.

And notes regarding specific investments or initiatives:

As recommended by the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget requires the Executive Offices of Housing and Economic Development, Health and Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development and Education to enter into a memorandum of understanding to identify cross-agency solutions to the challenges faced by low income Massachusetts residents at risk of homelessness.

image screenshot from https://malegislature.gov/Budget/FY2017/Senate Click to enlarge


Program funding is listed, by line item, in the allocation section. Below are the key programs impacting families experiencing homelessness, listed with the proposed funding level, language, and key amendments. We will compile a full list of relative amendments when they are filed.

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (7004-9024)

SWM Proposed Funding Amount: $100,083,891

SWM Proposed Language: Adds reporting language and elimination of some technical changes related to program administration

Amendment: Housing Chair Linda Dorcena Forry’s amendment #779 proposed to increase funding to $120 million and make important adjustments to the program, including: establishing the Fair Market Rent (FMR) Cap at the current FMR; establishing a data management system; and mandating rapid voucher distribution.  Click here for our MRVP Action Alert.  Let your Senator know it is #779!

Emergency Assistance (7004-0101)

SWM Proposed Funding: $155,058,948

SWM Proposed Language: Includes language that families at imminent risk of homelessness would be eligible for shelter; increases advance notice language from 60 to 90 days; reduces reporting requirements

Amendment: Senator Jason Lewis’s Amendment #669 will increase reporting requirements to include the reasons why families are determined not eligible for EA and basic demographic information


HomeBASE (7004-0108)

SWM Proposed Funding: $31,943,664

SWM Proposed Language: Includes increased access to families in domestic violence and substance abuse family sober living programs

Amendment: Senator Sonia Chang Diaz’s amendment #426 will increase funding to $39,200,000; remove the funding cap for the expansion to domestic violence and substance abuse program residents and clarify eligibility for participants in those programs; and add language for voucher renewal

Other Useful Information

For more information about the Senate Ways and Means Budget Relative to Housing, please click the links for CHAPA’s full analysis and amendment list.

For more information on selected programs related to benefits, child welfare, housing and homelessness from Mass Law Reform Institute, click here

For a full analysis from Mass Budget and Policy Center, click here

Thank you to our partners in the advocacy community for this great work!

For tips of navigating the list of amendments, refer back to our blog post on the House Amendments; the Senate Amendments are a bit easier to navigate as they are listed by category.

And thank you, yes YOU, for your advocacy on these key issues!


PS: Bonus thanks to any retweets of our #SenBudget tweets on Twitter! 


The Senate Budget Is Coming…

 Image from http://www.mass.gov/legis/

The Massachusetts House of Representatives have finalized their budget proposal, and now it is the Senate’s turn. The Senate Committee on Ways and Means, lead by Chairwoman Karen Spilka, will be releasing their proposal on Tuesday, May 17th.  Amendments will be due on Thursday May, 19th.  Debates will begin on Tuesday, May 24th.

We are not certain about what will be in the budget; and therefor what amendments may or may not be needed, but we do know that Senate President Stan Rosenberg is focused on “Kids First”. And we also know that Chairwoman Spilka has been a strong advocate on issues of housing, prevention and access to shelter, as evident in this video.

The Senate also established a Special Senate Committee on Housing which started meeting in April of 2015 and issued a report in March of 2016. The report may offer some insight as to what will be in the Senate Budget proposal:


And we also know that revenues have been low, and that there are multiple priorities for the elected officials and people of the Commonwealth.  Your voice will be important as Senators work through the budget process.  If you want to look up your State Senator and their contact information, click here, and get ready to advocate! Let #OurVoice be heard!