With aims to provide shelter for about 2,000 homeless families living in motels and hotels in Boston, the Massachusetts Senate approved a $94 million spending bill on Thursday to help offset the cost of putting families in hotels and to pay for their winter heating bills.
The Senate bill includes $20 million for heating assistance through means, such as the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, to address delays caused by the government shutdown.
Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said more federal dollars should be spent on Section 8, a rental assistance voucher and government subsidy that allows eligible families to rent in the private market and only pay 30 percent of their income for rent.
“The reason we’re in the predicament we’re in is because we’ve walked away on the judicial side in supplying affordable housing to people,” she said. “On the federal side, we’re 30 years willfully underfunded in affordable housing so … the peaking point is that there’s not enough federal dollars going into Section 8. [We’ve ended up] with [many] people becoming homeless in the last five years of the recession.”
The House of Representatives approved a similar bill on Wednesday allocating $13 million to shelter programs for homeless people, $7 million less than was requested by Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick to help the growing number of homeless families. Members from both the House and the Senate will meet to resolve differences in a joint committee.
Rachael Neff, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the administration is focusing on homelessness in Boston due to the increasing number of homeless families.
“The Patrick administration is committed to funding programs to help those most in need while also making targeted investments to help grow jobs and opportunity in the near-term and strengthen Massachusetts in the long-term,” she said. “We are reviewing the Legislature’s budget with those priorities and goals in mind.”
Aaron Stevens, an economics professor at Boston University, said financial stability would be more easily reached for families if more capital were put into long-term opportunities as opposed to short-term assistance such as motels and hotels.
“I think public housing or housing assistance would be a more permanent solution than placing people in temporary housing such as motels,” he said. “Permanent housing offers substantial benefits, [like] to a person looking for a job who needs to put an address on their job application. Permanent housing would provide more stability to people to help them get their financial footing back on track.”
Some residents of Boston said they supported the bill because of its emphasis on sheltering homeless people.
“I think [the spending bill] would help because it would stabilize people and with stability comes better things like being able to look for a job, because many jobs require you to have a home address,” said Junior Obionwu, 25, resident of Allston. “It will help clean the streets up too. I know when you’re homeless, you’re moving around a lot and it’s harder to be stable and go to school, so I think it will help children especially.”
Caitlin Hasson, 24, resident of Brighton, said affordable housing would benefit all people of Boston, not just people who are homeless.
“[The spending bill] will probably help a lot of people,” she said. “Someone was talking to me about how there are many more homeless students in school these days that don’t have a lot of food, so that would be good for them to have a stable environment. And affordable housing will probably cut down on a lot of things like crime.”
Katherine Lombardi-Gonzalez, 28, resident of Allston, said she has been homeless on-and-off since she was five and hopes the money will help fix the homelessness problem in Boston.
“I still have a majority of friends who are homeless, so I definitely support helping the homeless whether it be through soup kitchens, improving community centers or straight up making more affordable Massachusetts housing,” she said. “I know moms on the street and their kids are trying to find alternatives. It’s getting worse, but hopefully with that money, it will improve in some way.”