Statement of Metro Housing|Boston Regarding The Growing Shortage of Affordable Housing for the Extremely Low Income in Massachusetts

The New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston today released a report highlighting the growing shortage of affordable housing in Massachusetts.

The report stressed that despite the best efforts of Massachusetts’ political leadership, the situation for households with extremely low incomes (ELI) has worsened. “Affordable rental housing for ELI households is in short supply, and the inventory declined between 2011 and 2016.”  This comes as no surprise to those of us working directly with families who are trying to avoid or exit homelessness.

It appears that nowhere in Massachusetts is there enough housing that is available and affordable to ELI households. The statewide gap exceeds 141,000 units. And, another signal that we are moving backwards is the rise of family homelessness. Twenty years ago there were 1,000 families subsisting in shelters; today there are 3,500 families.  We are failing those most in need, and we must intentionally take steps to build houses for this population.

Throughout its history, Massachusetts has taken the lead on many initiatives and dedicated state resources to prevent homelessness and support affordable housing. We should therefore not settle for falling behind on the effort to address this emergency or rely on municipalities to do so voluntarily.

The report rightly recognizes that “ELI households would be better served by rental-assistance programs than by LIHTC-subsidized units.”  There is an opportunity during the soon-to-start budget debate to increase funding for state rental assistance.  However, there are additional ways to increase the total stock and reduce the number of families who are homeless by providing permanent housing opportunities.

Massachusetts should consider various strategies to increase the availability of affordable homes for those most in need. For example, the Governor could follow the lead of at least nine other jurisdictions that have declared “homeless states of emergencies” (including San Diego, Portland, and Hawaii) to coordinate resources and heighten the public’s focus on the issue.

Additionally, the state’s political leaders could commit to producing new public housing and adequately funding its upkeep (learning from the lessons of the past), setting and tracking goals for ELI housing production, and mandating inclusionary zoning with the majority of affordable housing built on-site. Although there is a need for housing across the continuum, if our leaders do not focus explicitly on the lowest income families then nothing will change.

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