Fiscal Year 2013 has been a rough and tough one, but not without its silver-lined moments of tried and true collaboration. Just when we think all hope is lost, a family, organization or legislator comes through and wakes up the little voice inside of our heads that say “Don’t give up now (and let’s be real, probably not ever)”. This Fiscal Year, we have come together as a community and turned that little voice in to a loud, booming, ongoing message that represents OUR VOICE.
When bombarded with families at our doors because the shelter door was not open, we brought over 9 hours of that voice to Gardner Auditorium. When we were told to “Shhh”, we banded together and chanted…really, really loud. We made phone calls, set up meetings, and wrote emails to our legislators to show them how many people are not just going to wholeheartedly fight the good fight, but not stop until it is won.
So let’s just stop and take a minute to say…..#winning! And thank you to all of the families, providers, community members, organizations and legislators who are driving the efforts to make the changes necessary to strengthen our state in FY14.
Here is an overview of the changes made by the senate who, most certainly, worked their magic.
THE GOOD….No, actually, the GREAT:
Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program: Remember when we all decided our ask for MRVP was going to be 60M? We didn’t want to go big OR go home, we knew we needed to go big TO go home. Well, the senate agreed; they proposed $57.5M and added language to add on surplus from this year….bringing us to just about 60M. This speaks volumes for our collective advocacy, years of making the case and an increased understanding of the need for more permanent affordable housing. In addition the language was changed to 50% of AMI instead of the 200% of the federal poverty level- another win.
There is also a $1.16M carve out for supportive housing for families and language mandating DHCD to develop a plan to prioritize HomeBASE families with disabilities for access to the vouchers.
Back to THE GOOD:
Emergency Assistance- Funding for EA shelter was proposed at $90.4M, a cut of $1M from the House, but still sufficient to cover 12 month contracts for shelters.
HomeBASE– HomeBASE families with disabilities will be prioritized for new MRVP’s; HB families will be able to access RAFT, DHCD may issue waiver for the 32month rule.
MRVP: Just kidding, no bad, but don’t want to miss an opportunity to say: WINNING!
EA: The Shelter Contract language was not included in the senate’s budget. Despite being able to cover the 12 month contracts with the proposed $90.4M, DHCD expressed concerns about being able to uphold them unless the $1M is restored. In addition, motel funding was decreased from $9M to $6M. Sadly, there were no changes to the categorical eligibility criteria.
HomeBASE: There was no increase in funding and no reversal of the time limit reduction…womp womp.
As the senate budget was released last week, there were a lot of emotions to control. We wanted to celebrate the MRVP win, but it didn’t quite feel right; some things still needed to be hashed out and understood, while other things needed to be amended…and fast.
We at HFF want to acknowledge, thank and hug the following champions within the senate for not wasting a minute in continuing to fight the good fight through sound, realistic and compassionate policy:
Senator Jamie Eldridge, also winner of The Big Cookie Award, is sponsoring two amendments to HomeBASE:
• Amendment 281: Subsidized Housing Preference and Rental Assistance
Co-sponsored by Messrs. Eldridge, Donnelly, Rush, Kennedy and Michael O. Moore
This amendment would restore the homelessness preference for state-funded public housing resources for families participating in the HomeBASE rental assistance program. By restoring this preference, some families may be able to transition into permanent affordable housing when their HomeBASE subsidies expire.
• Amendment 282: HomeBASE Rental Assistance
Co-Sponsored by Messrs. Eldridge, Rush, Donnelly, Kennedy and Wolf and Ms. Jehlen and Mr. Joyce and Ms. Chang-Diaz and Messrs. Brownsberger and Michael O. Moore
This amendment has been redrafted and now clarifies that families exiting the rental assistance program can access HomeBASE household assistance funds and Residential Assistance to Families in Transition (RAFT). It also adds language so that families transitioning off of HomeBASE can access shelter if they are unable to stabilize their housing through the other options. It does not and will not include extending the program to 36 months.
Senator Kenneth Donnelly is sponsoring two amendments to EA:
• Amendment 247: Family Homelessness Prevention:
Co-sponsored by Mr. Donnelly and Ms. Spilka
This amendment will build upon Senate Ways and Means’ plan to provide temporary accommodations to families experiencing homelessness. The amendment focuses on those families being turned away from the Emergency Assistance program because they have not yet stayed in a place not meant for human habitation.
• Amendment 309: Maintaining Access to Emergency Shelter for Certain Homeless Families
This amendment will require the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to presumptively place families into the Emergency Assistance (EA) family shelter program if they provide credible proof that they otherwise would be forced to stay in place not meant for human habitation and that they otherwise would meet the EA eligibility criteria.
Senator Anthony Petruccelli is sponsoring an amendment to EA:
• Amendment 240: Emergency Assistance Shelter Providers
This amendment will help stabilize the core service of shelter provision by establishing a single 12 month contract with shelter vendors, as well as provide greater transparency around motel spending. The current practice of multiyear contracts is a distraction and limits opportunities for monitoring, building
efficiencies, and is an unnecessary burden on shelter and DHCD staff. The language in this amendment regarding the contracts will be consistent with the language proposed by the House.
Senator Bruce Tarr is sponsoring an amendment to EA:
• Amendment 261: DHCD Shelters Contracts
This amendment will ensure the stability and effectiveness of shelters through requiring an initial contract from DHCD for no less than 6 months and have the funding in place.
Senator Katherine Clark is sponsoring an amendment to support Community Action Programs:
• Amendment 295: Community Action Homelessness Prevention Program
Co-sponsored by Ms. Clark and Mr. Wolf
This amendment acts to restore homelessness prevention services through the community action programs.
So again, huge thank you to the champions within the senate who understand the importance of staying tuned and staying active to work together to make the system better.
And an equally huge thank you to the families, shelters, community members and agencies that continuously strive for the good, shun the bad and don’t stop until the work is DONE.