A new report published by a partnership of housing groups finds that the State of Massachusetts could provide affordable housing for the estimated 240,000 eligible families not currently being served by other state and federal housing programs by investing in an expansion of its Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). The report, A Right to Rental Assistance in Massachusetts, explains how the expansion of MRVP might be carried out, how many households stand to benefit, what an expansion would cost, and how it could be implemented.
MRVP was the nation’s first rental voucher program and remains the largest state-funded voucher program in the country. Yet the program serves fewer than 10,000 households at its current budget – a small percentage of the 585,000 individuals and families in Massachusetts estimated to be eligible for state and federal housing assistance.
The new report finds that expanding MRVP to all eligible households would:
- Bring the benefits of MRVP to a broader population of seniors, families, and other individuals with very low incomes, reducing poverty and homelessness while also increasing housing stability and family mobility.
- Eliminate the unfairness resulting from the current lottery and waitlist approach.
- Reduce property owner discrimination against voucher holders, since landlords who turn away eligible families would find themselves cut off from a large new market of renters.
- Create new incentives to construct housing for voucher-holders with the assurance of a guaranteed government payment for all units.
- Further racial equity in housing, as nearly half of Black families and 56% of Latino families would be eligible, while fewer than one in five White families would be eligible.
- Potentially save the state money in other areas, including homelessness assistance and emergency housing, which typically cost the state between $300 and $400 million per year.
The MRVP expansion would require a phased approach to allow new administrative methods to take root, adjustments based on data and best practices, and an integrated statewide approach to oversight and management. The expansion would also likely necessitate codification in the state’s general laws to reduce year-to-year uncertainty regarding funding.
The report comes in the wake of work conducted by the state’s Senate Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts’s Post Pandemic Resiliency. A 2021 report released by the committee endorsed a comprehensive approach to rental assistance in which all eligible families would receive state subsidized rental vouchers. Inspired by this call for a universal housing assistance program in Massachusetts, MetroHousing|Boston (an NLIHC member) brought together the Boston Foundation, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA, an NLIHC state partner), Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials to fund and inform the new report. The Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University provided technical support.
“To bring rents in newly developed buildings to levels that people with low incomes can afford, rental assistance is vital in bridging the gap,” said Rachel Heller, chief executive officer of CHAPA. “In the open market, rental assistance helps make more homes affordable, too. It’s an economical and social imperative when housing costs far outpace wages and there’s an affordable housing shortage. Now is the time to build upon the legislature’s investments in MRVP so that everyone can get the rental assistance they need.”
Chris Norris, executive director of Metro Housing|Boston, agreed. “The current mix of systems falls far short of what is needed to make affordable housing available to all people in Massachusetts,” explained Norris. “But research and experience show that filling that gap and creating a more cohesive system would reduce poverty and homelessness, improve children’s health and education outcomes, and create needed stability in the housing market, with the greatest impact on those with the lowest incomes.”
The release of the report also serves as the initial launch of a campaign that brings together housing, business, and other groups to advocate for universal rental assistance in Massachusetts.
For more information about the report and the advocacy campaign for universal rental assistance in Massachusetts, please contact Jeff Landis, communications officer for Metro Housing|Boston, at [email protected].
Read the report here.