New partnership to substantially reduce homelessness and prevent displacement among Boston Public Schools students
BOSTON – Monday, March 30, 2020 – Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) are creating a new partnership to house up to 1,000 families with BPS students at risk of displacement and experiencing homelessness over the next year. Outreach to get families into the application process will begin immediately to expand housing support for Bostonians during and after the COVID-19 public health emergency. The first housing placements are expected to begin in May 2020.
“We know anxiety about housing goes beyond monthly payments. Many families have been struggling to find or hold onto housing, before this public health crisis even began,” said Mayor Walsh. “Homelessness creates barriers for our students to grow, learn, and succeed, and schools being closed presents even more challenges for families experiencing housing insecurity. These vouchers we’re announcing today will support our students in critical ways and help us get closer to our goal of ending homelessness in Boston.”
The vouchers will allow Boston families experiencing homelessness to seek housing in the private market with a significant rental subsidy. Under the Tenant-Based Housing Choice Voucher Program, families who receive a housing voucher pay 30 percent of their adjusted income for rent, while BHA provides federal funds to the landlord to cover the difference between the tenant share and the Fair Market Rent (FMR).
The Boston Housing Authority will house up to 500 families living in shelters through the State’s Leading the Way Home program, a partnership between the BHA and the State network of family shelters in which the BHA issues vouchers to displaced Boston families in shelter. The BHA has issued over 900 vouchers to Boston displaced families in shelter since June 2018. There were 1,160 homeless families in Boston shelters, the majority in scattered site apartments or congregate shelter units, as of the most recent count on March 26, 2020.
“There has never been a more urgent time to ensure that homeless families with children have safe, permanent affordable housing,” said BHA Administrator Kate Bennett. “In the short term, this initiative is a timely, prudent step that will help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and in the long term, it will allow many more kids to thrive in school and elsewhere.”
The other 500 vouchers will be provided to families who are in precarious situations that lack necessary stability or could easily lead to displacement. These families will be served through a direct partnership between the BHA and BPS, in an effort to reach out to the unsheltered homeless population with children enrolled in BPS. There are currently 4,500 students in Boston that lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, as defined by The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
“Unfortunately, too many of our students and their families are homeless. A stable home is critical to a child’s well-being and their success in school,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “In addition to providing access to free meals, delivering laptops and Internet to students who need them, providing mental health support and other necessary services, this is an urgent resource for families while navigating the current public health emergency. Providing permanent, stable housing for over 1,000 families is life-changing for our students and I am incredibly thankful to Mayor Walsh and his entire team for ensuring our families and children are a first priority.”
Due to the current COVID-19 public health emergency in the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools system is closed until at least May 4, 2020. BPS continues to support students and families by providing access to free breakfast and lunch meals, printed learning materials, and toiletries at emergency meals sites. In addition, so far BPS has distributed over 22,000 Chromebooks to ensure our students remain engaged with their learning and their school communities. Thousands of hotspots are expected to be delivered soon to families without internet access.
This new partnership between BHA and BPS also builds on the comprehensive plan announced yesterday for individuals experiencing homelessness in the City of Boston during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency. The City has secured over 240 additional beds for individuals to increase social distancing in existing shelters and aid those in need of a home to safely quarantine or isolate themselves and reduce the further spread of COVID-19 in Boston.
Following the declaration of the COVID-19 State of Emergency, Mayor Walsh urged landlords and property owners to suspend evictions for loss of income or employment circumstances resulting in a tenant’s inability to make rent during the City’s public health emergency. Property owners are encouraged to implement a moratorium on evictions that could be in effect for 90 days, with reviews every 30 days.
In addition, the City of Boston and the Boston Housing Authority issued letters urging housing court to reconsider non-essential evictions of residents. The Boston Housing Authority is also moving to immediately suspend its filing and prosecution of all Housing Court cases and matters with respect to its non-essential eviction actions. This includes cases where the health and safety of others is not part of the suit. It also includes all non-payment, no-fault cases, and cause-related cases.
The City is also supporting Bill HD 4935, An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID19 Emergency, which would prohibit evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 State of Emergency, providing more time for households to make up for lost wages and access public assistance. The Governor has also announced a Statewide ban on non-essential evictions until April 21.
“I am calling on the Legislature to move this bill forward as quickly as possible, and we are also asking that these measures stay in place for a period after this emergency is lifted,” said Mayor Walsh. “Renters and homeowners will continue to face hardships for the next few months, and will need time to get back on their feet. We’re looking forward to working closely with the Legislature as this bill moves forward.”
Through the efforts of Boston’s Way Home, the City has housed over 1,000 chronically homeless individuals, 1,200 homeless veterans, and ended chronic veteran homelessness in Boston. From 2017 to 2018, Boston also saw a decrease of more than 12 percent in the number of individuals sleeping on the street. Nationally, the number of unsheltered homeless has increased by 9 percent. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported in 2017, 2018 and 2019 that Boston maintains the lowest rate of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness among all major U.S. cities.
The BHA was recently awarded $1.8 million from HUD to fund 139 housing vouchers for residents with disabilities, homeless families and chronically homeless individuals. In April 2019, the BHA was able to issue 1,000 new rental housing vouchers after it secured approximately $28 million in additional funding for vouchers by demonstrating the need for a higher Fair Market Rent (FMR), which sets the payment standard housing authorities can set for voucher-subsidized rents and determines subsidy levels for voucher holders. These vouchers increased the BHA’s portfolio of vouchers to 13,500.
For more information and updates on COVID-19, text BOSCOVID to 994-11 or visit our COVID-19 website. For information on emergency shelters, day programs, community meals, and street outreach, visit our helping the homeless page.