In order to provide affordable housing for the increasing number of homeless people in Boston, Homes for Families, an advocacy group for homeless families in Boston, is requesting an increase to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program’s budget.
The MRVP assists low-income state residents with rent by offering two types of vouchers. Those in need can either apply for vouchers that allow them to choose their own housing or ones that are specifically for subsidized housing. Libby Hayes, the executive director of Homes for Families, said a $30 million increase to the MRVP could be a huge step toward reducing homelessness in Boston.
The 52 percent increase would bring MRVP’s current budget of $57.5 million. The advocacy group brought this request forward to legislatures on Monday at the state house.
“[The budget increase] would result in approximately 3,000 vouchers,” Hayes said. “We could assist 3,000 households in combatting homelessness.”
The MRVP was once funded at over $120 million, and at that time, homelessness was not nearly quite the crisis that it has become in Boston today, Hayes said.
“When the MRVP program was funded at $120 million the state had less than 1,000 homeless families,” she said. “Ever since we’ve stopped investing as much in the homeless we have over 4,500 homeless people living in Boston.”
According to a statement released by Andrew Gornstein, undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development, the MRVP has seen expansion for the first time in 20 years under the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
“The MRVP is one component of the administration’s comprehensive approach to address housing needs,” he said. “Under the Governor’s leadership, the program experienced its first significant expansion in 20 years by funding over 2,500 new vouchers over the past two fiscal years. The Governor’s FY15 budget proposal not only sustains those increases but also funds additional vouchers for the upcoming fiscal year.”
Homes for Families is very confident in the MRVP, and Hayes said the group believes the additional funding is crucial to solving the homelessness crisis
“MRVP is a key tool that Massachusetts has to adjust our homeless crisis and the affordability crisis that the state is facing,” she said.
Massachusetts Sen. James Eldridge is an advocate for more affordable housing and a supporter of the MRVP budget increase.
“It’s very important because it is a true solution to keep working families in housing,” he said. “It covers most of the rent for poor families and it makes it realistic for people to get housing in Boston. It’s simple and it works very well.”
Eldridge explained that the rising cost of housing in Boston is one of the primary reasons that the homeless population has grown so much over the last few years.
“We have among the highest housing costs in the country, which makes it harder for working families to afford an apartment,” he said. “Even though we’ve had a relatively large economic recovery in Massachusetts, some people still haven’t had a large enough recovery and can’t afford housing prices, which continue to go up.”
Eldridge said Homes for Families definitely has a chance of getting their request granted because Massachusetts has the revenue and the MRVP is capable of helping people who need homes.
“We saw a $20 million increase last year and state revenues in Massachusetts continue to be pretty solid,” he said. “We still have thousands of families in shelters and hotels. Increasing the MRVP program will help to reduce that number of families.”
Some residents said homelessness is a prominent and growing issue in the city.
“You can walk up and down any street in the city and see [multiple] homeless people,” said Courtney Tarleton, 23, of Allston. “I don’t think there’s any question about whether or not it’s an issue,”
Gilberto Tejeda, 20, of Roxbury, said there is already plenty of help available for homeless people, but thinks they need to be their own advocates.
“I don’t think the state ignores the fact that there’s homelessness,” she said. “The help is definitely there. There are shelters. They also have access to government funding and welfare. It is up to them to take advantage of these things.”
Aaron Gracci, 23, of Back Bay said that the budget increase would be beneficial, but it would not completely solve the issue of homelessness.
“It would probably be beneficial to a lot of homeless people,” he said. “But where the government would get the money from might be another issue. In any case scenario it won’t be 100 percent effective.”