08 Jul CommonWealth: Critical state housing voucher program should be codified
By Chris Norris, Metro Housing|Boston and Rachel Heller, Citizens Housing and Planning Association
July 8, 2022
RENTS IN MASSACHUSETTS have reached astronomical heights. Communities in Greater Boston are seeing increases as high as 30 percent over last year. According to The State of the Nation’s Housing 2022 report, nearly one of every four renters is paying more than half of their income to rent. People with the lowest incomes are being hit the hardest and left with the fewest choices. Fortunately, we already have a program with proven results we can codify into law to help those disproportionately impacted by high housing costs: the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP).
For over 55 years, Massachusetts’ households have benefitted from this state-funded rental assistance program. MRVP served 20,000 families statewide in 1990 until it was subject to a series of cuts, and by 2006, the program served only 4,500 families. Today, after years of state reinvestment, approximately 10,000 families use this assistance to pay their rent and maintain housing stability.
However, unlike the federal voucher program or even the original state voucher program, MRVP is only a line item in the state budget. It is not codified in state law and is therefore at greater risk of significant, destabilizing changes each budget year. Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association and Metro Housing|Boston urge the Legislature to put MRVP into state law before the end of this current legislative session.
Putting MRVP into law would make the program more reliable for current and future program participants and less likely to be changed every year, eliminating this annual uncertainty that leaves too many families in need without the reliability to remain stably housed. In addition, putting MRVP into law would ensure voucher holders pay no more than 30 percent of their income to rent so they can have more income available for other necessities, such as food, childcare, and health care. This would help get vouchers to people most in need – people with extremely low incomes.
Making MRVP law would allow for more program infrastructure, adding inspections to meet safety requirements, adequate funding for administration of this program, and the creation of a voucher management system to help us understand the impacts of this program and identify ways to continuously make this program work better for people. Establishing MRVP into state statute would make the program more consistent with the federal Section 8 program, making it simpler for tenants, owners, and administrators to understand.
MRVP is the largest state rental assistance program in Massachusetts. It provides a lifeline to 10,000 families every year, the majority of whom have extremely low incomes. This program has been especially vital during these past two turbulent economic years and will continue to aid residents in the midst of rising housing costs. MRVP is essential in preventing homelessness and providing housing stability for our most vulnerable residents. It is time for the Commonwealth to treat MRVP and those who utilize it with the respect they deserve by making this program into state law.