The small grants and short-term housing subsidies provided under the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) have helped to shelter thousands of homeless families in the Boston area. But, long-term stability remains a challenge. This is a key finding from the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership’s (MBHP) preliminary assessment of HPRP, the federal program established to quickly re-house homeless families in the wake of the housing crash and recession.
MBHP faced several barriers when identifying families eligible for HPRP support. The main criteria for participation included a family’s ability to secure a rental apartment, its potential for increased income to support the rent, and its motivation for self-sufficiency. MBHP discovered that only 19% of the assessed families reported wage income, 32% had no rental history, and 13% had been evicted. Further, 17% of the families had a household member with a criminal record and 10% did not have permanent legal residency, a disqualifying factor for HPRP.
For qualifying families, their ability to increase their income to afford market-rate rents is essential to successfully transition to unsubsidized housing when HPRP benefits stop. But, this is a significant obstacle. The median monthly rent of an apartment subsidized by HPRP through MBHP is $1,238, below HUD’s Fair Market two-bedroom rent for the area ($1,357) yet an amount that few families can afford on their own. Using HUD’s standard that families pay no more than 30% of their annual household income toward rent to be considered “affordable,” the median HPRP family must earn $49,520, a large difference from its current income of $9,144.
Using local employment and wage statistics, MBHP calculated that only HPRP participants with at least a bachelor’s degree could expect to earn the annual income necessary to support market rents. In contrast, 9% of the participants earned a bachelor’s degree, 12% had not completed high school, and the rest completed high school or received a GED.
MBHP recommends steps to implement rapid re-housing programs more effectively to help families experiencing homelessness. First, service agencies with established property relationships are best suited to carry out these efforts; they must reduce barriers so families with poor credit records and the lack of rental history can enter the rental housing market. Second, more funding is needed to support family-specific, intensive, field-based assistance, such as casework and advocacy. Third and most important, success is not simply getting people out of homelessness and into homes, but providing the ongoing assistance necessary to promote long-term housing stability and economic self sufficiency.
The Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership’s preliminary assessment is located at www.mbhp.org