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State-funded program helps families in housing crises

Nonprofit saves the state millions in emergency shelter assistance

Karen Morales

In 2017, 1,474 Greater Boston families were diverted from entering homeless shelters by receiving cash assistance from the homelessness prevention program Residential Assistance for Families in Transition through Metro Housing|Boston, saving the state $31 million in emergency assistance.

Metro Housing|Boston, formerly known as the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, is a nonprofit with more than 30 years of experience providing resources and personalized services to families in need of housing stability and economic security.

The RAFT program is funded by the state and is open to Massachusetts families that are eligible to enter the Emergency Assistance shelter system.

In fiscal year 2017, a $3.8 million RAFT investment helped to serve the 29-community service area, including Boston, according to the fourth annual RAFT in Review report, released by Metro Housing this month.

Eligibility

This investment pales in comparison to an estimated cost of $31 million that the state would have had to invest to provide emergency shelter.

“This program is best suited for families who are working but just need that extra help to maintain stability and move forward,” said Chris Norris, executive director of Metro Housing|Boston.

Eligible residents can apply for up to $4,000 to pay their rent, mortgage, or other costs such as utilities, but “typically we have given $2,400 per family,” said Norris.

The cash assistance is then given to the third party vendor, whether it’s the landlord or utility company, said Maura Pensak, director of housing supports for Metro Housing|Boston.

“More than one third of the families that Metro Housing served in FY17 would be over income for EA shelter if they became homeless,” reads the annual report. This means that some families might have an income that, although very low, would be enough to make them ineligible for shelter.

Key data

Three neighborhoods in Boston — Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury — each had more than 100 families receive RAFT funds, according to the report. In Dorchester, 525 households received $1.3 million, 123 Mattapan households received $338,000 and 114 Roxbury households received $289,000 in assistance.

In keeping with Boston’s skyrocketing housing prices, Metro Housing assisted 60 percent more families this year than it did four years ago. “Last year we assisted around 1,300 families, and this year it has increased to nearly 1,500,” said Norris.

As reported in previous years, payment of rental arrears remained the largest assistance category in 2017, with an increase of 4 percent over 2016, from $1.77 million to $1.85 million.

Assistance with security deposits increased 30 percent from nearly $571,00 to more than $740,000, and first and last month’s rent was the third largest payment type with a 9 percent increase in 2017 to $442,00, according to the annual report.

To be eligible for RAFT assistance, “You need to be in a housing crisis and be at risk for homelessness or are already homeless,” said Pensak.

Families are allowed to come back another year for help, “but the rates of return are very minimal,” said Norris. “It’s not meant to be a long-term subsidy.”

According the RAFT annual report, a total of 107 families received RAFT in both FY16 and FY17, representing only 4 percent of families who received assistance both years. This percentage is consistent with other cross-year comparisons since FY13.

“Our goal is to use RAFT as a tool alongside our other services and long-term planning,” said Pensak. “We want to make sure we’re offering as much as we can and it’s not just in-and-out.”

Metro Housing|Boston moved their office location from Downtown Boston to Roxbury Crossing this past year and has satellite sites all over Greater Boston in order to better serve families in their own communities.

“RAFT is extremely important whether it’s the holiday season or summer,” said Norris. “Everybody should have a place they call home.”

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