Low Income Families Struggle with Housing Insecurity

  • There are a huge number of families, about 200,000 in Massachusetts, with income so low they qualify for emergency assistance. Families with income of $18,000 for a family of three qualify for emergency assistance.
  • Housing is very expensive in Massachusetts. Apartment rent would require 85% of income in greater Boston for a family at the EA limit, and 65% of income outside greater Boston.
  • 42,000 families applied for housing assistance from Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development in the last year. 33,000 families applied for housing assistance the previous year.
  • Less than half of the 200,000 low income families have housing vouchers, allowing them to pay only 35% of their income for rent.
    • 90,000 families have housing vouchers, either section 8 or Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (5900 families).
    • If all 200,000 families had housing vouchers, $2,400,000,000 would be needed.
  • Massachusetts is the 6th lowest in the nation for housing production and this shortage is driving up prices. The following indicates low-income family monthly budgets for housing fall short of what the market requires for rent.Low-income families and rent allowances from CHAPA's 2014 Policy Summary.
  • The presence or absence of affordable housing is a main driving force behind the rise in homelessness. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report in March 2014 looking at the impact of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (more commonly known as Section 8) on households participating in the program and the larger economy. Click here for the full report and here for Massachusetts-specific data.

Family Homelessness Has Increased Significantly in the Last Four Years

  • As of June 17, 2016, there were 3,811 families with children and pregnant women in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program. 485 of these families with children were being sheltered in motels. This number does not count those families who are doubled up, living in unsafe conditions, or sleeping in their cars. Click here for nightly data on the EA program from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, and here for monthly EA-related data, including on the reasons families needed to enter the shelter system. Quarterly data from DHCD, from FY’13 to the present, also is available through this link.
  • During state fiscal year 2015, 6,192 families were assisted with emergency shelter and/or HomeBASE diversion assistance, out of the 11,856 families who completed applications for assistance. For the first 9 months of fiscal year 2016, 4,397 families were approved for EA and HomeBASE diversion benefits and 3,275 families were denied assistance. More data on the EA and HomeBASE programs can be found here.
  • 2013 data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), released in August 2014, estimates that 9,493 high school-aged students in public schools are experiencing homelessness on any given day in Massachusetts. These figures are derived from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey responses. This number includes an estimated 4,085 unaccompanied high school students who are experiencing homelessness and not in the custody of their parent or legal guardian. To see more data from ESE, click here.
  • In the 2014-2015 academic year, public schools across Massachusetts were able to identify and serve 19,515 students who were experiencing homelessness. (This link also includes academic year data going back to 2010.)
  • The number of individuals experiencing homelessness has more than doubled since 1990.
  • On any given night in Massachusetts, the approximately 3,000 night shelter beds for individuals usually are full or beyond capacity (supplemented by cots and sleeping bags).
  • Sexual violence and homelessness often are interconnected. Click here for more information from our partners at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

How Housing Security Hurts Children

Approximately 88,000 children have no permanent home, according to a July 2011 report (A Snapshot of Homelessness in Massachusetts Public High Schools) by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

  • Homeless children get sick and go hungry twice as often as other children.
  • Homeless children struggle in school.
  • Compared to other students, homeless children who are able to attend school are:
    • Four times as likely to have developmental delays
    • Twice as likely to have learning disabilities
    • Twice as likely to repeat a grade, most often due to frequent absences and moves to new schools
    •  47% experience anxiety, depression and withdrawal compared with 18% of other school-age children

Why Families Are Homeless

Housing is very expensive in Massachusetts. Apartment rent would require 85% of income in greater Boston for a family at the EA limit, and 65% of income outside greater Boston.

  • The U. S. economy has caused rents to soar, putting housing out of reach for the poorest Americans (National Center on Family Homelessness).
  • 200,000 families in Massachusetts have incomes at or below 115% of the federal poverty level, which is $18,000/year for a family of three. These families often pay over half of their income for rent and utilities.
  • A person making minimum wage $8.00 per hour has little chance of affording a two bedroom apartment in Massachusetts which would take an income $21.88 an hour.
  • In Massachusetts, 50,000 very low-income households are on the 5-year waiting list for the federal Section 8 housing voucher program. The program’s funding was repeatedly slashed in the last two decades. Households with Section 8 certificates pay 30% of their income for rent.
  • The supply of affordable housing is declining while the demand remains high (National Center on Family Homelessness).
  • A parent might have been laid off or had her work hours reduced during the recent recession.
  • A family may have been evicted when, because of insufficient income, they were unable to pay back rent or utility bills.
  • 90% of homeless mothers have been victims of domestic violence sometime in their lives.
  • A parent may be unable to get a child care voucher to pay for day care while she works and market rate child care is draining her budget.
  • A family’s apartment may have been converted to a condo.
  • A family might have experienced a fire in their apartment and can’t find another at a price it can afford.
  • A mother may be unable to work regularly because of her own illness or a child’s recurring illness or disability
  • Governmental financial support, such as public assistance, is too little to make ends meet and frequently ends before people have sufficient training for jobs that pay a living wage.

Poverty contributes heavily to homelessness

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s September 2015 American Community Survey report, the overall poverty rate in Massachusetts was 11.6% in 2014. This includes an estimated 757,235 people in Massachusetts living in households that fell below the poverty threshold – $24,008/year for a family of four in 2014 ($24,300/year in 2016).
  • Families and children in Massachusetts experience poverty at an even higher rate – 8.3% of all families have incomes which fall below the poverty line, and 13.2% of families with children under 18 have incomes which fall below the poverty line.
  • To see data on the number of Massachusetts households receiving basic benefits through the Department of Transitional Assistance, click here. This report includes data on the following programs: Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC/”Welfare”), Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC), State Supplemental Security Income (State SSI supplement), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/”Food Stamps”). (Updated October 2014)
  • To read more about the impact of housing instability on children, click here for an October 2012 policy brief by Children’s HealthWatch, “Safe, Stable Homes Mean Healthier Children and Families for Massachusetts”.