Metro Housing|Boston (Metro Housing), an NLIHC member, released its FY17 RAFT in Review report analyzing the Massachusetts statewide Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, including Metro Housing’s participation in a pilot expansion of the program. The study showed that the RAFT program provided housing stability to very and extremely low income households and saved the state tens of millions of dollars in other services.
RAFT is a homelessness prevention program for families experiencing a housing crisis who are very low income (VLI)—earning at or below 50% of the median income, which was $46,550 for metropolitan Boston in FY17. RAFT allows eligible households to apply for up to $4,000 in assistance that can be used flexibly to meet the expenses often associated with housing instability, eviction, and homelessness. RAFT participants use their assistance most frequently to pay rental arrears to retain their housing, to cover security deposits and first/last month’s rent to obtain new housing, or to pay for utilities, furniture, moving, and transportation expenses.
RAFT is funded by the Massachusetts Legislature through the Department of Housing and Community Development and is administered by ten nonprofit organizations across the state. Metro Housing administers RAFT in Boston and 29 neighboring communities.
RAFT is designed to prevent households from entering the Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter system. VLI individuals and families experiencing a housing crisis would find themselves income-ineligible for EA assistance, making RAFT assistance a crucial lifeline for them. According to the RAFT in Review report, 64% of households receiving assistance in FY17 were extremely low income (ELI)—earning at or below 30% of the area median income, or $27,900 for the Boston metropolitan area. The remaining 36% were VLI.
The high costs of moving expenses, security deposits, and first and last month’s rent preclude many of the lowest income renter households, who often live paycheck-to-paycheck, from obtaining new housing when they seek it. As both a homelessness and eviction prevention tool, the ability to use RAFT assistance to cover moving expenses increases housing stability for those households who receive it.
FY17 was Metro Housing’s fifth year serving as a RAFT agency, and the organization also participated in a pilot expansion of the program in FY17. Initially, RAFT defined eligibility as “a family (i.e., two or more people living together, one of whom is a dependent child under the age of 21 or a pregnant woman) [with an] income that is not more than 50 percent of the area median income.” Last year’s pilot expansion of the program included individuals and families of all sizes and configurations who are income-eligible. Individuals and families still must be at or below the VLI threshold.
The expansion allowed Metro Housing to serve an additional 60 households, of whom 31 were individuals and 27 included a head of household with a disability. RAFT in Review shows that the expanded group of recipients was older and poorer, and they needed more assistance with arrearages but less assistance with security deposits and first/last month’s rent than the broader group of RAFT recipients.
Metro Housing provided RAFT assistance to 1,474 households in its 29-city service area in FY17, administering a total of $3.85 million in RAFT funding. According to RAFT in Review, this investment saved Massachusetts $31 million from the Boston service area alone. The annual median income of RAFT-recipient households in Metro Housing’s service area was $15,065—far below both the $46,550 needed to qualify for RAFT assistance and the $67,640 needed to afford a modest 2-bedroom rental home in Boston, according to NLIHC’s latest Out of Reach report. Sixty-one percent of Metro Housing’s RAFT recipients were black or African American and 92% were female heads of household. Though households may receive RAFT assistance for multiple years, only 4% of households that received assistance in FY16 also received assistance in FY17.
“For four years running, our reports continue to show the positive impacts of the RAFT program,” said Metro Housing Executive Director Christopher Norris. “For a relatively small investment, families in our region are able to stay in their communities near their children’s schools, their health providers, and their social networks. This is crucial to helping families maintain stability and achieve economic security.”