The family homelessness system in Massachusetts has been in crisis since….well, since before the system itself was created. We all know that shelter is not a replacement for a home. And nobody feels that children be forced to sleep on the streets, in parks, in cars, in hospital waiting rooms, or in crowded and unsafe homes. Yet, we all know the crisis has drastically escalated since the great recession. We have close to 1,700 families in motels, 2,000 families in shelter and 6,000 in short term rental assistance through HomeBASE. There is an average of 20 families that enter the system each day (based on DHCD entry data for the past 10 days). We also know that for every family who enters shelter- one is turned away. With stricter eligibility criteria more families are already being turned away, and even more will be turned away with the implementation of more restrictions. With inadequate re-housing resources and no more short term subsidies…less families will exit shelters and motels. Is it time to sound the alarm? Is it time to wake up the general public to the reality and severity of the crisis?
Could the Administration declare a state of emergency? Surely a natural disaster affecting close to 10,000 families (comprised of approximately 29,000 men, women and children) would garner such a reaction. Why not an economic disaster?
Should the Administration call on faith communities, schools, the business community, the federal government to help figure out how to keep families safe when there is not enough affordable housing or adequate wages for families to meet their basic survival and safety needs?
The Administration’s current plan is to restrict eligibility for shelter to certain narrow subcategories of homeless families. RAFT will be an option for some of the families that will no longer be considered eligible for shelter.
With the restrictions imminent, unless the Governor and/or the Administration decide otherwise, many questions remain:
- How many families are projected to fall into the “no longer eligible category”?
- What are the options for those families, especially when flexible cash assistance is insufficient or not appropriate?
- Are communities prepared to handle the consequences of restricted eligibility? Are community members, such as faith communities, hospitals, health centers, schools, hot lines and and daycares aware of the changes?
- Do homeless and at risk parents know who to call, where to go, and appeal/re-application policies if their situation changes or fear for their children’s safety due to the lack of shelter?
- Have the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Public Health developed plans to address increases in care, protection, and health risks?
At HFF, we are working to understand the new policies and who they will impact. Below is a summary of the regulations as we understand them (or click here for a document version). We encourage shelters and community based organizations to share with front line staff, partner organizations and others that interact with families facing homelessness. Besides understanding the regulations to advise people correctly, concerns can and must be voiced to elected officials- including the Governor’s office and Legislators. There are better and more responsible ways to address the crisis than simply shutting the doors.
DRAFT Analysis of DHCD’s proposed EA regulation changes
v 309.020 BASIC PROGRAM ELIGIBILITY
- An applicant family must demonstrate residency as an element of basic eligibility. Basic eligibility must be determined by DHCD before presumptive eligibilityis granted to an applicant family. Family must be able to document:
- ID of each family member
- Relationship of each family member
- Massachusetts residency
v 309.040 ELIGIBILITY
- A household is eligible ONLY if the following conditions exist:
- Domestic violence
- Household is at risk of DV in current housing OR
- Family fled DV and has not had access to safe, permanent housing since leaving the housing situation from which they fled.
- Domestic violence
- Fire, flood or natural disaster due to no fault of the family.
- No fault eviction due to:
- Condemnation due to no fault of the applicant household (*note that removed from the regulations were eligibility due to violation of the State Sanitary Code and overcrowded living arrangements).
- The conduct of a guest or former household member, of whom the applicant household had no control over – limited to situations where:
¨ there is domestic violence,
¨ the one causing the eviction was mentally ill or
¨ the conduct of a minor child with a CHINS order in place that the parent is in compliance with.
- Nonpayment of rent only where there is a documented medical condition or disability or caused by a documented, no fault, loss of income (of at least 10% within the past 12 months).
¨ Only applies to market rate housing or any other housing where rent is NOT determined based on income caused by.
- A family member with income leaves the household.
- if the family is determined eligible, the absent HH member cannot be re-added to EA HH).
- Landlord must verify that absent member was part of household and document date s/he was removed from the lease.
- If loss of income is from employment, the family must demonstrate that employee did not:
- Reduce earnings
- Voluntarily terminate from job
- Terminated for cause (as determined by DUA)
- Must be rent-burdened, paying more than 50% of income toward rent and utilities.
¨ If a family vacates a unit at any point during an eviction case, without a court-order to do so, they will have been considered to have abandoned their unit, rendering them ineligible for shelter, despite the reason for the eviction, even if it was no-fault or excused-fault.
¨ A family who becomes homeless because their landlord chose not to renew their lease is not entitled to shelter.
¨ A family must have received the 48-hour notice of levy on execution in order to be eligible for shelter.
- Families who leave or have left, within the past year, a doubled-up housing situation where, as determined by DCF assessment:
¨ The child(ren) (NOT the parent)in the household are sleeping a place not meant for human habitation, where the housing situation:
- Lacks hot and cold water
- Lack of heat in colder months
- Lack of a toilet
- Unsanitary conditions that result in the accumulation of garbage
¨ AND WHERE there is a health and safety risk to the child(ren) that is likely to result in significant harm should the child(ren) remain in that situation. A substantial health and safety risk is determined present when the child(ren) are exposed to, by the primary tenant:
- Criminal activity
- Mental health issues
- Substance abuse
v 309.040 12 MONTH RULE
- A household is not eligible for shelter or another shelter benefit for 12 months after the last day of shelter or shelter benefit ended.