5/15-5/19 What is happening Under the Golden Dome…

….relative to housing and homelessness?

 

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means will release their budget proposal on Tuesday, May 16th. The deadline to file any amendments to the SWM proposal is Thursday and debates will begin the following Tuesday, May 23rd.  Debates will wrap up in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

The budget proposal release is not the only action and activity taking place at the State House next week, click here for the full schedule of hearings and events for the month of May. 

There are three committee hearings on Monday – the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets; the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. Both the House and Senate will be in “informal session”.

Monday will be a good day to call your Senator’s office and let them know what you hope they will prioritize in the Senate Budget Debates.  Click here look up your State Senator and below is a sample script:

“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in the Senator’s district in _(your town)__. I am calling because I am concerned about (housing, homelessness, transportation, jobs, education…be specific) and I am asking that the Senator prioritizes these issues during the upcoming budget debates.

And it will also be a good day to write testimony in support of or against any of the bills that are being considered in the week ahead. Verbal testimony should be 3 minutes or less. Written testimony can be submitted to the committee.

Tuesday is the big day! Not only will the budget be released, but there are 12 hearings scheduled!! The Joint Committee on Housing is hosting an Oversight Hearing  (oversight hearings generally include invited panelists from State or Quasi agencies or other experts in the field and the public is open to listen). Other hearings focus on bills, many of which touch on the issue of family homelessness, and are open to the public to listen and/or give testimony:

Wednesday there is one hearing hosted by the Joint Committee on Transportation. Wednesday will be a key day for confirming sponsors for Amendments to the Senate Ways and Means Proposal and Thursday will be the deadline. Now is the time to sign up for our action alerts if you have not already.

Did you know that Massachusetts often near the top of the list for the number of bills filed; but is close to the bottom of the list of the number of bills passed. This slightly outdated article lists us as passing only 5% of all bills. However, hearings give us all a chance to be heard; to make our case, to elevate an issue, to interact with those that make decisions impacting our lives, to support legislators fighting the good fight, and to call out injustices of bad bills.

For more on Legislative and Budget advocacy, click here for a recent webinar (slides or full presentation with audio) we did with our colleagues on the On Solid Ground Coalition.

LH

Following the Amendments on malegislature.gov

The House Committee on Ways and Means released their budget proposal on Monday, April 10th, a change from the typical Wednesday release to accommodate for Good Friday. Representatives had until 5pm on Thursday to add amendments to the $40.3Billion spending proposal.  Amendments can add additional funding and change line item language. Amendments must be filed by at least one representative, and others can add their name as co-sponsors after the amendment has been filed.  Historically, representatives co-sponsored an amendment by signing their names next to the corresponding number in a book in the clerk’s office with a quill pen.

Advocates and others would have to go to the clerk’s office at the State House and ask to see “the book” to see who had signed on. Now, legislators can use the “quill” feature on an online system that we can all track. Technology makes the process much more transparent.

The Massachusetts Legislature’s website had a bit of a face lift since last budget season. This blog post gives an overview of how to navigate the website so that you can read the various amendments, see what amendments your representative filed, and check to see if your State Representative is supporting the Budget Amendments that are important to you.

Step 1. Go to https://malegislature.gov/

Step 2. Go to the House Debate Page

Step 3. Use the Filter

When you enter your search terms, don’t forget to click the “filter” icon; use the “clear filter” feature to start a new search.  

Search Tips

  • If you don’t know who your State Representative is, click here
  • Housing programs all are listed with line item number 7004-
  • Line items we follow are: MRVP (7004-9024); Emergency Shelter (7004-0101); and HomeBASE (7004-0108)
  • Key words include: homeless, housing, voucher…

Step 4: Find your Amendment(s)

Step 5: Review the Amendment

Amendment #780 is an example of a funding amendment; striking the budget amount of $100M for MRVP and inserting $120M.

Click here to read the “technical amendment” #382 that was filed on MRVP 

Step 6: Take Action

If your Representative is signed on: say thank you!

If your Representative is not signed on: ask him/her to consider co-sponsoring.

You can call, email, use social media, visit the State House, attend an event.

Feel free to contact us with any questions or for more information.  For a sample script and a list of the amendments we are watching, click here

Stay tuned for more information; we will do our best to keep the blog updated as the budget process continues.  Representatives have up until the debates begin to co-sponsor and get educated about the amendments.

The debates begin on Monday, April 24th!

We raised #OurVoice for more housing!

We gave testimony in front of the Joint Committee on Housing.  Here is what we said:

September 29, 2015

Good morning and thank you Chairwoman Dorcena-Forry and Chairman Honan and members of the Committee.  My name is Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes for Families.   I am here today to testify in support of House Bill 1111: An Act Relative to Housing Production sponsored by Chairman Honan.

First I would like to thank the Chairman, this committee and the legislature for your commitment to restoring the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and for maintaining the safety net for families that are victims of our housing market’s impossibilities.  MRVP is one of the most critical tools to address the housing affordability crisis in the Commonwealth.  However, MRVP alone cannot solve it.  We simply do not have enough units to house the people of the Commonwealth.  This bill aims to change that.

As the Pope so clearly articulated last week, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” 

Yet, here we are –  with:

We recently released a report synthesizing information from surveys taken by family shelter providers.  The number one barrier to re identified was the lack of affordable housing. Each summer Homes for Families hosts an event which convenes families from shelters and motels from across the state, to discuss solutions to homelessness. This year, like each year before, participant recognize housing as the number one solution.

According to Enterprise Community Partners and Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies. The number of U.S. households that spend at least half their income on rent—the “severely cost-burdened,”—could increase 25 percent over the next decade.  Last week, the Boston Foundation’s 2015 indicator’s report shared that more than 85 percent of the positions added to the Boston economy since 2009 pay less than $38,000 a year – a big gap from the over $60,000 per year needed for a family to be housing and economically stable.

Rent continues to outpace wages at a rapid rate.  Rent increases are also outpacing voucher limits.  We often hear legislators say that their number one constituent call is related to housing.  In my office, we have had an increase in calls from families with vouchers in hand that cannot find an apartment that meets the qualifications. 

Here is our reality in the Commonwealth:  right now we have a housing crisis caused by a lack of housing stock and a vast gap between wages and rent.  Recent reports show that dynamics will only get worse. As a result, our homelessness crisis will only increase.  The housing stability forecast for the lowest income families – and children – in the Commonwealth is grim.

But there is good news – we know the path we are on, we are aware of the dynamics at play, and we have the collective ability to turn towards solutions.  Housing Solutions.  We know housing construction has a multiplier effect on the economy.  We know stable housing leads to better health outcomes, and leads families on a path to economic mobility. And we know that there is resistance to building and multifamily housing….but there is also resistance to motels.

Housing is the foundation. – for families, for stability, and for a thriving Commonwealth – and to ending our family homelessness crisis.  We need the physical housing structures – and for families to have either the subsidies and/or wages to achieve housing stability.  Massachusetts has a choice – to continue to manage the crisis or to start solving the dynamics that have caused it. This bill is the foundation for solution. This bill provides the tools to build the housing we need.

We agree with Pope Francis, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” and hope this committee reports favorably on the Act Relative to Housing Production.

LH

Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

Viewpoints from Around the State: Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

by Libby Hayes, featured in the Provider, a monthly newsletter from the Provider’s Council that highlights some of the biggest issues in the human services sector.

According to the 2014 report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, the number of homeless children increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013; there were increases in the number of homeless children in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The report also states that 1 in 30 children in America are without a home.

Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Education identified 15,812 homeless students last year. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a 94 percent increase in the number homeless families in the Commonwealth from 2007-2014. The state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) program is currently providing shelter to approximately 4,460 families each night. We were battling the issue of homelessness before the recession hit. That issue is now an epidemic. An epidemic that can – and must – be solved.

Despite the daunting statistics above, the number of families in motels has been reduced from a high of 2,200 families in December of 2013, to fewer than 1,400 in March of 2015. This reduction is a result of a combination of efforts, including an expansion of the number of family shelter units. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the EA shelter providers have worked to implement more efficient and specialized program models such as co-sheltering, a shelter for single fathers and enhanced services for domestic violence and substance abuse.

 Next, a pilot program was launched in July of 2014, placing EA providers in the five busiest shelter intake offices. The providers meet individually with eligible families, to explore resources and opportunities outside of the shelter system. According to DHCD data, the statewide rate of families “diverted” from shelter in January 2015 was 21 percent, a significant increase from the 5 percent diversion rate in FY ’14. At the same time, DHCD reports the total number of exits from the EA system has increased from a year-to-date total of 2,955 in January of 2014 to 3,696 year-to-date total in January of 2015.

The HomeBASE program has been a critical resource in these achievements. Investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, Leading the Way Home Vouchers through the Boston Housing Authority, access to private developments through the New Lease Program, and augmented staffing in motels have all contributed the increase in the number of families exiting the shelter system. Building on these efforts will further reduce the reliance on motels and better support families to overcome homelessness.

The recently released On Solid Ground report outlines the economic context of the family homelessness epidemic – specifically exploring the issues of wage stagnation, a decline in housing production, disinvestments in family supports and fragmented public policies and programs. On Solid Ground calls for more coordination and accountability across all state agencies to better align policies and maximize resources and effectiveness.

Historically, homelessness has been looked at in one of two ways: through a human service lens or through a housing lens. We now recognize that we must look at housing as the foundation, and at human services, child care, education, labor and workforce, and health care as the materials needed to construct a future without homelessness. Resources are needed, and coordinating a holistic response requires leadership and vigilant tracking of data to evaluate progress.

Governor Baker has made family homelessness a priority issue for his administration. His FY ’16 budget proposal includes $20 million for a new End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund to be administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), but has also proposed further restrictions to shelter eligibility. Further restrictions are simply not tenable; already about half of the families that apply for shelter are determined ineligible; more than 600 families entered the shelter system in FY ’14 after staying in places not meant for human habitation. These are children. Blanket categorizing and excluding subpopulations of homeless families has never proven successful in the Commonwealth’s 30-year battle against family homelessness, especially compared to successful prevention and diversion models.

 Thoughtful distribution of the Reserve Fund will be needed to avoid making the system more convoluted and confusing to families in crisis. While flexible funding has proven to be a useful tool to manage homelessness more cost effectively, it cannot solve an epidemic caused by larger systemic issues: a shortage of affordable housing and wage stagnation at our lowest income levels. But a focus on housing, children and providing the necessary opportunities and resources will do more than manage homelessness – it will end it.

-Libby Hayes, Executive Director of Homes for Families

Providers Council

We interrupt our regularly scheduled (#NHHAW #VDAY) Blog Posts, to give you an important 9C cut update

According to Massbudget Policy Center. Section 9C of Chapter 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws requires that when projected revenue is less than projected spending, the Governor must act to ensure that the budget is brought into balance.  With a projected shortfall for this fiscal year, Governor Patrick has acted and proposed a series of cuts.  There are a lot of cuts and dings across programs- many to administrative lines, incentives, reserves, earmarks, and uncommitted grants.

Housing and shelter line items were essentially unscathed- less a reduction to the DHCD administration line, less than $1M from MRVP and a $76,000 reduction to the DMH subsidy program.  From our understanding the cut to MRVP will not impact the distribution of vouchers as the lease up time will result in a surplus in the line item.  The Salary Reserve was also preserved

Relative Human Services programs did take some significant cuts including the following:

DPH Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment ($50,000)
DPH Healthy Relationships Grant Program ($150,000)
DMH Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services ($5M)
DMH Mental Health Services Including Adult Homeless and Emergency ($2M)
DMH Emergency Services and Mental Health Care ($3.6M)
Inpatient Facilities and Community-Based Mental Health Service ($790,000)
DTA Pathways to Self Sufficiency ($10M…out of $11M)
DTA Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children Grant Pmt ($5M)
DTA Emergency Aid to the Elderly Disabled and Children ($2M)

 

We will be in communication with our partners that work on the Pathways to Self Sufficiency Program and the Welfare Coalition to learn more about the impact of the cuts.

Other cuts to human services, according to the Provider’s Council (cut and pasted from their email) are:

Department of Mental Health

DMH will see a $11.6 million reduction resulting in delayed programs and a loss of funds in emergency funding for the uninsured.

Department of Developmental Services

DDS will have its budget reduced by $5.5 million. Much of this will come from reduction of funds to Day and Employment Services and Family Support Services.

Department of Youth Services
DYS will see a reduction of about $385,000. The costs will be absorbed through delaying the opening of two programs, according to DYS.

Executive Office of Elder Affairs
Elder Home Care Purchased Services (line item 9110-1630) will see a 9C cut of about $1.5 million. The FY ’15 final budget included $104.4 million for services in this line item which will be reduced to $102.9 million.

Local Aid

Governor Patrick proposed a $25.5 million reduction in local aid, which will require  legislative approval when the formal session starts in January.

There were also cuts to libraries, ANF, Fish and Wildlife, and Conservation and Recreation, and in education programs.

We are grateful for the Administrations commitment to preserving our housing programs and the safety net of shelter and the thoughtfulness to minimize the impact of the cuts on vulnerable populations.  We will work to understand the impact of the cuts to programs and people and do support the use of the rainy day fund to further minimize the of the budget shortfall.

Here is the link to the State’s website with additional information.

Now that you have digested all of that information, remember that this is the Governor’s proposal. There is already push back from the Legislature, as this Globe article reports.

Stay tuned!

LH

Visioning Day Report 2014: Housing is A Basic Human Right

Basic Human Right FB Pic

The first two recommendations in our Visioning Day Report relate to the vision and principle that HOUSING IS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT.

As Representative Rushing often reminds audiences, the answer to the question, “Why are people homeless?” is actually quite simple.  The answer is, “because they don’t have a home.”   Using that logic to solve homelessness, we need two primary approaches- to increase the stock of affordable housing available to families who are homeless and to prevent households from losing their homes in the first place. Our specific recommendations based on the input from Visioning Day are:

  1. Implement an aggressive and expansive housing agenda which includes deep investments in housing subsidies, access to public housing, new development and zoning reform that promotes increased multi -family housing development
  2. Develop a more comprehensive and accessible homelessness prevention system that includes flexible resources, services, supports and pathways to opportunity.

MRVP, Prevention and Public Housing were ranked by Visioning Day attendees as the three most important budget priorities.  Voucher distribution and access to services were ranked as the top issues for Homes for Families to prioritize. The breakout group with the most attendance was the group on Housing, and the issues of housing and prevention were raised in each distinct discussion group.

On Housing:

MRVP and public housing are 2 of the state’s most effective defenses against homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2014 Out of Reach report, on average, a minimum wage earner in Massachusetts must work 3 full time jobs in order to afford the average rent of a 2-bedroom apartment. In Boston, 3.5 minimum wage jobs are required. The gap between what is affordable to an SSI recipient and fair market rent is a remarkable $1038*.

MRVP and public housing make housing affordable to households in a market that is often hostile toward their needs and available resources. Bold investments in these programs will assist the state on its path to increased affordable housing development, particularly supportive housing units that will provide wrap around services to increase family and community stability. The implementation of more residential service providers in public housing and private development could also reduce evictions and be used as a leverage point for easing the strict eligibility requirements for families that may have credit, CORI or other negative housing histories.

Zoning restrictions in many local communities often create challenges to the development of housing for low income households. In addition to funding affordable housing programs, elected officials should pass legislation that promotes local land use policies that support the development of small-parcel and/or multi-family development in addition revisiting and enforcing Chapter 40 to allow the state to provide communities with the appropriate tools for planning and development.

On Prevention:

You know the stories- the family that became homeless after a layoff, a medical emergency, a no fault eviction without enough savings for first and last- and we know you know the cost argument: Many instances of homelessness can be prevented with a fraction of what will be spent on sheltering that same family. Flexible cash assistance is a vital resource for families that need a short term infusion of money to preserve their tenancy during a short term economic emergency.    The challenge is to ensure that programs, like RAFT, are fully funded through the entire fiscal year, and that private, municipal and other prevention programs are coordinated and accessible so that families and case workers don’t need to go on a wild goose chase in the middle of an economic crisis. We also know that mediation and legal representation can be critical in preventing evictions.

However, the long term effectiveness of prevention through short term financial assistance is limited by the vast gap between wages and rent.   Without a living wage, a long term subsidy, ongoing gap funding, and/or a social/familial network of means, homelessness may be inevitable.  A comprehensive prevention system would also provide the supports, resources and opportunities for long term housing stability.  According to DHCD, in fiscal year 2014, 14% of families eligible for emergency assistance were homeless due to eviction.  At the same time, over half of eligible families were living in irregular housing situations or in homes where they were not the primary tenant**.  Many of the younger families who are in shelter never had their own apartment.  Prevention should also consider how to support young parents to live independently.

Resources, supports and opportunities needs to be accessible. Prevention discussions often highlight the need for upstream interventions.  The Maximizing Resources group talked about the role of schools and the health care community as core partners in doing outreach and linking families to resources.  Participants in the Shelter Breakout group discussed the positive attributes of shelter, including: supportive services, peer support, material goods, trainings and workshops, and housing advocacy.  How can prevention programs reach families sooner and incorporate such components, so that families can access the supports and opportunities they need without having to enter shelter?

How do we push this agenda forward?

This is where you come in! What are the specific programs and models that are working? What are the topics that you want to learn more about? What data do we need to make our point? What data is already out there? What are your stories?  What are the resources you are willing to advocate for?

Sources:

*National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out Of Reach, March 2014. http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/oor/2014-OOR-MA.pdf

** DHCD Emergency Assistance Program Fiscal Year 2014, Fourth Quarter Report http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/hs/ea/fy14q4eareport.pdf, July 31, 2014

The State of Homelessness: Where Massachusetts Stands

Recently, there have been an increase of articles that state there has been a decrease in homelessness. 

On May 27, 2014, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released their annual State of Homelessness Report, and the information inside helps us to break apart that statement. Their data comes from the point-in-time count- a national initiative to understand homelessness and the only measure that captures unsheltered people experiencing homelessness.

This document analyzes homelessness at a national level, you know, the one where homelessness has decreased by 3.7%, but also breaks down state data. In 2013, 31 states saw a decrease in people experiencing homelessness, but 20 states saw an increase.  Guess which category Massachusetts falls into?

If you guessed “increase”, you guessed right. Despite state and local initiatives to end homelessness, Massachusetts experienced an 8.7% increase among the overall homeless population. We saw a 17.7% increase in the unsheltered population, an 8.3% increase in the sheltered population, a 6.4% increase in individuals, a 10% increase in persons in family households, an 11.3% increase in family households, a 6.1% increase among veterans, and a 5.1 % increase in individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

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Homelessness is often the result of many failed systems- poverty, unemployment, housing costs, and living costs are all reasons for homelessness; one or more hiccups in any of those arenas can leave a person scrambling for their next option, and when there is no next option, homelessness is the result.

If we want to solve homelessness, we have to look at these systems.  Lucky for us, the National Alliance to End Homelessness makes it easy:

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So when we hear the phrase “Homelessness is decreasing!” we are thankful.  Thankful for the cities who are making progress in curbing their homeless numbers and offering practices that work, thankful for the organizations who are applying individualized services to get desired results, and thankful for the people and families who fight every day to achieve the American dream of obtaining permanent housing.

When we hear the phrase “Homelessness is decreasing!” we are hesitant, but hopeful. There has been a movement towards Housing First- getting people out of shelter and into permanent housing- but until the need for entering shelter is curbed, the crisis cannot be solved. Low minimum wage, inability to find a job, paying more than 50% of your paycheck towards housing costs, expensive childcare and the severe lack of affordable housing are far greater than the overwhelmed shelter system.

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When we hear the phrase “Homelessness is decreasing!” we know that one day we will be saying the same thing, and until that day comes, we will be educating, we will be empowering, we will be organizing and we will be advocating for holistic and permanent housing solutions to the very unnecessary problem of homelessness. And what’s more, we will be winning this fight. 

 

-jme