Support City Vouchers for Housing First!
$5 million a year is sustainable. Today, the City’s $2.98 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 350 Housing First program. A $15 million annual program would fund 1,050 Vouchers and cost only 0.5% of the City’s budget.
Leverage federal funds. Boston was recently turned down for a competitive $3 million homeless assistance grant from HUD, reportedly due to an inadequate provision of Housing First options for the homeless. A City funded Housing First Voucher program would help the City leverage HUD grants in future funding rounds.
Housing is a Right and should be a priority for City funds. 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 alleviate homelessness as a priority.
Council support. Nine City Councilors, led by Councilors Zakim and Wu, have urged Mayor Walsh to include $5 million in the City’s FY2017 final budget to launch a Housing First Voucher program for 350 homeless people.
Meet Boston’s rental housing needs. Boston Voucher program would help address the low-income renter needs identified in the Mayor’s Housing Plan. More than 60% of Boston’s residents are below 50% of Area Median Income; half earn below $35,000 per year and would qualify. The Mayor’s Plan at present does not include a single net new unit of low income housing for families and individuals. City funded Vouchers would correct this defect by providing an alternative source for the 1,700 low income subsidies the Plan provides for new housing by converting federal BHA vouchers to project-based vouchers. It would also help offset the reduction in federal and state vouchers to Boston since 2010.
Reduce shelter overcrowding. 25% of Boston’s homeless are employed. 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 ensure the success of the City’s Action Plan to End Veteran and Chronic Homelessness: while this Plan mentions Housing First, it does not actually provide any.
A City-funded Voucher program will save money by reducing public safety, health and social service costs. 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.
If DC can do it, why can’t we? 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, funded annually from the city’s general revenues for all but two years. Locally, the City of Waltham has recently voted to establish a similar Voucher program, serving 50 households, utilizing Community Preservation Act funds.
The BHA can do it. 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 has experience targeting 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.
Tailor it to Boston. 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.