Homelessness Prevention

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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.

AHVP briefing_group
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.”