Massachusetts Senate Takes Step to Expand Housing Options for Vulnerable Residents

(BOSTON) – On Thursday July 21st, the Massachusetts Senate passed An Act Relative to Community Housing and Services, filed by Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville).  This legislation will lead to the development of up to 1,000 units of Supportive Housing in Massachusetts over the next three years.   Supportive Housing – defined as affordable housing linked with supportive services designed to help tenants with modest incomes maintain housing stability and maximize their independence – is a national best practice to end homelessness and is critical to enabling persons with disabilities and seniors with service needs to live independently in the community.

“The Senate has a long history of supporting affordable housing and doing what it can to increase the stock of housing available to lower income families, senior citizens and the disabled,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “This bill will continue that progress.”

Senator Jehlen, the Senate Chair of the Committee on Elder Affairs noted: “It is absolutely critical that Massachusetts residents of all ages, incomes and abilities have choices when it comes to securing an affordable home.  This initiative will expand opportunities for people that have too few options to live in an affordable home near friends and family today.”

An Act Relative to Community Housing and Services aims to increase the state’s focus on the development of permanent supportive housing.  The legislation calls on the Administration to determine numeric benchmarks for the creation of supportive housing, charges them with creating an efficient and effective application process for creating supportive housing that eliminates government silos, and establishes a target of 1,000 units of new supportive housing over the next 3 years.  The legislation does not include any costs to the Commonwealth, but provides a more efficient framework to utilize current resources to benefit residents that need affordable housing and services.

“This legislation is the logical next step to implement the Commonwealth’s Housing First Strategy to eliminate homelessness” said Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton), the Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing, “It will help reduce the shortage of affordable housing that is linked to the services that enable people with challenges to be healthy, productive, and independent.”

“Senator Jehlen’s legislation will enable agencies across government to work together to make housing available to Massachusetts residents with difficult challenges,” noted Sean Caron, Director of Public Policy at Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), a statewide affordable housing advocacy group. “We would like to thank Senator Jehlen, Senate President Murray and the entire Senate for enabling a thousand households to have a place to call home in their own community.”

The legislation will head to the House and await action.

Additional Information on Supportive Housing

Supportive Housing for Households that Experience Homelessness

Increasing the Commonwealth’s supply of supportive housing is a necessary step to reduce homelessness in the Commonwealth.  There are approximately 3,640 families currently residing in the state’s homeless shelters, 1,540 of which are in budget motels because shelter capacity is full[i].  There are homeless families in every region of the state; families from over 200 Massachusetts municipalities reside in shelter today[ii].  An additional 4,041 individuals are homeless according to the most recent HUD Continuum of Care count.  Within the total 7,680 Massachusetts households that are homeless, 1,181 are homeless veterans[iii].

Permanent Supportive Housing is a national best practice to reduce homelessness among families and individuals with significant challenges[iv].  Many families and individuals that face considerable social and economic challenges spend a significant amount of time in shelters at a great expense to the Commonwealth.  The public health impacts of homelessness are also costly to the person’s quality of life and to the Medicaid system.  Supportive housing provides both housing and the services tenants need so they can live up to the terms of a lease, and avoid the costs of eviction, shelter, poorer health and related healthcare costs, and other government resources.

Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities

Supportive housing is important for many persons with disabilities to be able to live independently in the community.  Many Commonwealth residents have a range of different disabilities that create challenges for daily living, but the vast majority are able to live independently in the community.  Research shows that persons with disabilities prefer to live in their community, near family and social institutions.  One of the major challenges to independent community living is the lack of affordable housing linked with supports for persons with disabilities in Massachusetts.

The gap between the high cost of housing in Massachusetts and the income levels of persons with disabilities is a serious challenge.  The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates the median income for persons with a disability between the ages of 21 and 64 is $40,700, 38% lower than the statewide average.  Over 26% of persons with disabilities are living with incomes below the federal poverty level, a rate of poverty that is 2.5 times Massachusetts’ general population.  With our high housing costs, there simply aren’t enough opportunities for people with low incomes who have a disability to find affordable housing.

Supportive Housing for Seniors

Our state population is aging at a tremendous rate, which creates additional demand for housing that has support services.  According to the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, our population of seniors aged 65 and over will grow by 37% to over 1 million between now and 2030.  Many frail seniors need personal care and other levels of service to avoid a nursing home placement. The wave of aging baby boomers is going to create a large demand for affordable housing linked with services in the coming years.

[i] DHCD Intake Data

[ii] DHCD Intake Data

[iii] Continuum of Care Data

[iv] Corporation for Supportive Housing

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