Why Rental Subsidies Help Prevent Chronic Homelessness

I had the pleasure of co-hosting a legislative briefing on the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) with Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) at the State House. AHVP is a transitional rental assistance program that provides accessible and affordable housing options to approximately 560 single adults with disabilities who are under the age of 60 and who qualify for state-assisted housing.

During the briefing, elected officials and legislative staff heard testimony from housing advocates and Massachusetts residents on why rental assistance programs are an important part of the Commonwealth’s housing toolkit to help struggling low-income individuals and families find long-term housing solutions.

“Rental subsidies are the most effective tool to immediately help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to secure homes they can afford,” said Rachel Heller, Director of Housing Policy at the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA).

“Together, with the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, AHVP is a critical tool in furthering the Commonwealth’s goal of providing persons with disabilities choices to live in community-based housing and to avoid more costly institutions or homelessness,” Heller continued.

As our homelessness rates continue to increase for both individuals and families, I believe that we have a moral and fiscal obligation to continue investing in housing subsidies in order to provide long-term housing solutions for our residents. Temporary shelters are far costlier for the state while chronic homelessness has adverse effects on the economy through long term unemployment and health care costs. Anne Johansen of Quincy also helped illustrate the feeling of despair people feel when facing an unstable living situation.

“I never really knew what freedom was before I lost it and then finally regained it,” Ms. Johansen said. “I have been free for almost 4 years now and I still cherish every choice that I am free to make, every quiet day spent at home and every busy day when I come and go as I please. Now I am a volunteer for BCIL and I am a member of the Mass. PCA Workforce Council,” she continued.

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Left to Right: Rep. Tim Toomey, Allegra Stout of BCIL, Anne Johansen of Quincy, Sen. Jamie Eldridge

Ms. Johansen spent seven years in nursing homes around Boston before BCIL staff helped her apply for a special rental voucher for people leaving nursing homes from Lynn Housing. Her touching story is just one of many thousand across the state – that’s why I was thrilled to help secure an increase to the AHVP line-item in last year’s state budget that created 120 additional vouchers.

“The Boston Center for Independent Living, which assists over 5,000 people with disabilities to live productive lives—including hundreds in Cambridge and Somerville—applauds Rep. Toomey’s leadership on AHVP,” said Bill Henning, Executive Director of the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL). “He is acting firmly to address the housing crisis besetting disabled individuals across the region,” Henning continued.

This year, I’m again teaming up with housing advocates to further expand the AHVP program. We will be asking for $7.1 million, which would increase the total amount of vouchers to 800, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature and with advocates to help secure more housing options for people with disabilities.

“Persons with disabilities deserve the right to lead equal, independent lives,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “I am pleased that so many people attended the legislative briefing to learn more about the numerous benefits AHVP offers to help support homes for the disabled and ways we can continue to expand the program in the FY17 budget,” Sen. Eldridge concluded.

We need to continue to work towards ensuring that all members of our state have a safe place to call home, and as Ms. Johansen reminded the audience, “The AHVP will be the ticket to freedom to so many people who are longing to leave nursing homes and homeless shelters.”

Rental Applications Now Available for Union Sq Apartments

The Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) is accepting applications for Union Square Apartments through May, 5th 2016. The apartment complex, which will replace the old Boys and Girls club on 181 Washington Street, is a mixed-use development project expected to include ground floor commercial space and 35 rental units dedicated to low-income and middle-income housing.

The apartments are expected to be move-in ready in August of this year, and individuals and families can apply for one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments by submitting applications by May 5th in person before 4pm at Winn Residential Office on 7 Memorial Road in Somerville or by mail postmarked no later than May 5th to the same address.

You can download the application online or pick it up in person at the following locations in Somerville:

  • Winn Residential Office – 7 Memorial Road #109
  • Somerville Community Corporation – 337 Somerville Avenue
  • Somerville Housing Authority – 30 Memorial Road
  • Somerville Homeless Coalition – 1 Davis Square
  • City Hall and Annex – 93 Highland Avenue
  • Somerville Library – 79 Highland Avenue

For more information on the application process including how applicants are selected, please visit this link or attend SCC’s informational session on April 14th at 6:00pm at Somerville Community Corporation, 337 Somerville Avenue, Somerville, MA 02143. Application information is also available online in Haitian-Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish.

McGrath/McCarthy Overpass Traffic Pattern Changes Coming April 11

Some substantial changes are coming to the Somerville Avenue/Medford Street Intersection at McGrath Highway. On April 11th, the Somerville Ave off-ramp will permanently close to traffic, along with the tunnel under the McCarthy Overpass that connects Somerville Ave and Medford Street to Washington Street.

After the closure, drivers who wish to access Somerville Avenue via the off-ramp should use the Washington St off-ramp instead.

These changes make way for a new intersection at Somerville Ave and Medford Street that significantly improves pedestrian safety, especially for people attempting to cross to or from Somerville Ave via McGrath Highway. Pedestrians crossing to and from Poplar St. on the northbound side of McGrath will now have a fully signalized crosswalk to use. A number of other improvements, including bike boxes and bike lanes, will also be added to improve cyclist visibility and comfort in what has in the past been a very difficult and dangerous area for cyclists.

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This design document shows bike and pedestrian improvements at the Somerville Ave/Medford St intersection.

Closure of the off-ramp and tunnel will allow for curb and sidewalk work to be completed, which will be followed by resurfacing of the area surrounding the McCarthy overpass and finally the installation of new pavement markings. Construction is expected to wrap up by this summer.

Sen. Jehlen and I with MassDOT officials at the McCarthy Overpass in 2011.
Sen. Jehlen and I at the McCarthy Overpass with MassDOT staff in 2011.

Improving safety and connectivity in this area of Somerville has been an ongoing priority of mine and the short-term improvements opening over the next months are a step in the right direction. They are the result of advocates and elected officials leveraging a bridge repair project (needed to keep the McCarthy Overpass from more or less crumbling to the ground) into a more complete project that addressed some of the immediate needs of the cyclists and pedestrians (not just cars) trying to use these city streets.  In the meantime, the work that the Somerville community has put into the McGrath Boulevard/Grounding McGrath design process has given us a realistic alternative to the McCarthy Overpass and has opened the door for its ultimate demolition and removal. It has been a very encouraging process and one that I am proud to say I have been a part of.

I will be posting more updates about this improvement project as construction wraps up, as well as more updates about the Grounding McGrath project in the weeks and months ahead. As always, I look forward to hearing from you, so please don’t hesitate to contact me directly or post in the comments below.