Homelessness

The Problem

As of mid-2015, there were 4,500 homeless families receiving emergency assistance (“EA”), of which 1,250 were in overflow hotel rooms. The numbers bounce around, but they are chronically non-zero.

The Commonwealth pays around $3,000 per family per month to provide shelter. The average stay is 10 months.

Now consider this: On any given day, private landlords in Massachusetts have enough vacant units to take all of these families out of shelter and hotels. And these units could be rented for on average just $1,000 per family per month.

Landlords don’t typically vie for homeless applicants because they have minor CORI (criminal histories) and a very unstable housing history. What can be done to encourage landlords to take in the homeless?

A Solution

Hundreds of MassLandlords members (and counting) are intrigued by the possibility of “insurance against homelessness” or a “landlord tenant guarantee”. The idea is to insure a private landlord (up to some limit) for damage, unpaid rent and attorney’s fees if they take a tenant out of shelter or motel housing.

The Seattle Landlord Liaison Project is a role model for Massachusetts. They have successfully housed hundreds of families over the last five years for far less than the cost of motels. Similar programs are in place in parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The way the program could work in Massachusetts:

  • Landlords receive $10,000 insurance for unpaid rent, damage, and attorney’s fees incurred in the first two years’ tenancy.
  • Tenants are forgiven minor CORI and past homelessness on the rental application.
  • The Commonwealth pays for a dedicated landlord adviser to mediate disputes and safeguard the state’s interest in the guarantee.

Such a program would be a win-win-win. It would supplement existing programs like HomeBASE, MRVP, and Section 8 to reduce the landlord’s perception of risk.  It would more quickly move the homeless out of hotels and into stable homes with kitchens. And because Seattle has been collecting data for five years, we can accurately predict that it would reduce the Commonwealth’s per family spending.

MassLandlords made minor contributions to a Senate Commission Report published March 3, 2015. The wording in that report reflects partisan politicking and is not really what our members should want. But a majority of our members would be likely to participate in a program as outlined on this page.

For further reading, check out these two surveys:

For a comparison of programs in use elsewhere, see this comparison chart prepared by Peter Shapiro:

 

Summary Slides for United Way Grant (August 2016):

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