MASS Alliance of HUD Tenants

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Organization Sign on Letter

Mayor Martin J. Walsh April 27, 2016
One City Hall Plaza, Suite 500
Boston, MA.

Re: City-Funded Housing First Voucher Program

Dear Mayor Walsh:
We write to ask that you include at least $5 million in the City’s FY 2016 budget to launch a Housing First Voucher program for up to 400 currently homeless families and individuals.

Boston is afflicted with the highest level of inequality in the US and is the nation’s most rapidly gentrifying city. Yet the City’s $2.8 billion budget includes only $7.75 million for housing. A $5 million annual increase for Housing Vouchers is less than 0.2% of the city budget. Should the Community Preservation Act pass this fall, Boston will have a stable funding source that could allow for robust expansion beyond the initial Housing First program. A $15 million annual program would fund 1,200 Vouchers and cost only 0.5% of the City’s budget.

Administration representatives have raised concerns about the “sustainability” of vouchers: once begun, it would be difficult to reduce funds. But that is true for any other essential city service—the question is, whether Boston will treat housing and the alleviation of homelessness as a priority in the City’s budget.

A Boston Voucher program would help address the low income renter needs identified in Housing a Changing City. More than 60% of Boston’s residents and a higher percentage of renters earn below 50% of Area Median Income and would qualify. Although Housing a Changing City proposes 1,700 new low income units for families or individuals in new mixed income housing, it does so by converting federal BHA vouchers to Project Based Vouchers there is no net increase in low income units. Our proposal would ensure a net increase in low income housing by providing an alternative funding source for these units. It would also help offset the reduction in federal and state vouchers to Boston since 2010.

25% of Boston’s homeless are workers. By providing Housing First for the many homeless able to stand on their own two feet, City Vouchers would open up shelter space for the many people currently forced to sleep on floors or the streets. City Vouchers would realize the objectives and ensure the success of the City’s Action Plan to End Veteran and Chronic Homelessness.

A City-funded Voucher program will save money by reducing public safety, health and social service costs, and school costs for the 8% of BPS students who are homeless. A recent HUD study confirmed that providing rental Vouchers for Housing First is at least as cost-effective in reducing homelessness as either emergency shelters or supportive housing.

Our proposal is modeled on the successful Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) in Washington, DC. From the outset, the DC program set aside Vouchers for Housing First. Started in 2007 from Washington’s city budget, the LRSP today serves 3,248 low income households earning less than 30% of the Area Media Income (AMI), at an annual cost of $37 million. The program has only been expanded since its inception, utilizing a variety of sources, including the regular city budget and the city’s Housing Trust Fund. Locally, the City of Waltham has recently voted to establish a similar Voucher program, serving 50 households, utilizing Community Preservation Act funds.

Like the LRSP, we propose a Boston program with a flexible mix of “Project-based” and “Tenant based” Vouchers, administered by the Boston Housing Authority. The BHA has experience administering 13,500 federal Section 8 Vouchers, including 20% which are Project Based, and knows how to target Vouchers for special needs housing with supportive services. Our plan will provide a funding source for the low income units in the BHA’s new mixed income housing developments.

As in DC, we propose that a Boston Voucher program be restricted to Boston residents, and that mobile vouchers be restricted for use within the city’s limits. Because the City would create its own program, enabling legislation could allow the BHA to set “payment standards” to landlords up to 130% of HUD’s Fair Market Rent (FMR), making it easier for renters to find housing in gentrifying Boston.

    We would be happy to meet to discuss this plan. For more information, contact the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants at 617-233-1885 maht@saveourhomes.org. Thank you for your consideration.

Michael Kane, Karen Carson, Margaret Arneaud, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants
Molly Hannon, Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee
Ronda Jackson, Concetta Paul, Save Our Section 8/City Policy Committee
Mel King: “Love is the Question and the Answer”
Joe Kriesberg, Mass Association of CDCs
June Cooper, City Mission
Libby Hayes, Homes for Families
Horace Small, Union of Minority Neighborhoods
Melonie Griffith, Mass Jobs with Justice
Cassie Hurd, AFSC/Material Aid and Advocacy Program
Katherine Mantius Bennett, Homeless Empowerment Project
Magalis Troncosco, Dominican Development Center
Cole Harrison, Laurie Taymor-Berry, Budget for All Coalition
Richard Thal, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Coalition
Leah Camhi, Fenway Community Development Corporation
Erica Schwarz, Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation
Darnell Johnson, Right to the City Alliance/Boston
Mimi Ramos, New England United for Justice
Lisa Owens-Pinto, City Life/Vida Urbana
Janet Frazier, Diana Kelley, Maloney Properties
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