Further Actions to Strengthen the Safety Net for Homeless Families
Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development
November 19, 2012
Since the release of new regulations governing the Emergency Assistance (EA) Program on September 17, 2012, the Department of Housing and Community Development has held two public hearings in Springfield and Boston and has continued to meet with legislators, stakeholder groups, and advocacy organizations. Prior to this, extensive outreach was conducted with a broad array of individuals and organizations involved in housing and homelessness issues.
These regulations are part of a comprehensive set of reforms enacted by the legislature to reinvest significant resources in homeless prevention and permanent housing while maintaining a strong emergency shelter system. Based on the feedback we have received, we will be making the following changes to the EA Program effective November 23, 2012. All of the changes are to the benefit of EA applicants.
Attached to this document is a list of previous changes DHCD has already made to the first draft of regulations released in July and an update on implementation of new resources and initiatives to address family homelessness.
Include “unfit for human habitation” as defined by the state sanitary code and regulations. This will require an inspection and written determination by the appropriate local official (health or building inspector). This change responds to the request to link the “unfit for human habitation” phrase to the State Sanitary Code. In keeping with the line item language that identifies DCF as the agency that makes such determinations, the process will be for DCF to make a referral to the appropriate local inspector and receive the report from the inspector.
Expand the “no-fault” eligibility category to include tenants being evicted for no stated reason, subject to verification that there is not an underlying “cause” reason for the eviction. This change will capture tenants for whom a tenancy is not renewed or who are evicted for reasons such as: when the owner is selling the building; the owner wants to move a family member into the apartment; or the owner wants to undertake significant renovations. The tenant must still be income-eligible for EA and documentation must be provided by the owner.
Change current guidance to allow homeowners who have been foreclosed on to be eligible for EA under the same “no-fault” eviction standards as tenants with respect to the loss of income. This would encompass homeowners that suffered a loss of income that caused their housing expense to increase to more than 50% of annual income.
With respect to households at “imminent risk” of homelessness because the child(ren) have been staying with a primary tenant who will not allow the children to stay any longer, provide for a “health and safety” referral to DCF provided that there is written documentation that the primary tenant will not allow the child(ren) to stay with them, and there is a child under 6 months or a member of the household has a documented medical condition or diagnosed disability or there is documentation that the landlord will take action to terminate the primary tenant’s tenancy due to the applicant’s stay with the primary tenant. If DCF confirms a health and safety risk as used in all other EA cases, the household will be determined to be eligible for EA.
Provide additional instruction on identifying an “irregular housing situation” by including four factors to be considered in determining eligibility under this category: the length of stay at a particular location; the total number of moves; the number of different locations; and the total amount of time that the family has been moving from place to place.
For health and safety conditions, instead of “cannot be corrected by the property owner’s remediation of the conditions before such conditions are likely to cause significant direct physical, psychological, mental, or emotional harm to the members of the applicant household” add “cannot or will not be corrected…” This makes it clear that the regulation covers the case of an uncooperative owner.
For domestic violence guidance, permit documentation for a DV incident that is older than 60 days to be contemporaneous with the EA application that pertains to the past DV incident. The current regulation requires documentation that is contemporaneous with the incident if the alleged DV occurred more than 60 days prior to the EA application. The intent was to document that the applicant is fleeing from a prior incident. However, the requirement creates an obstacle to DV victims who did not file a report/see a counselor, at or near the date(s) of the DV incident(s).
Co-locate Regional Administering Agencies (RAAs) and Department of Children and Families (DCF) staff in key local DTA offices to strengthen the referral process to health and safety assessments, to RAFT, and to other community resources for those who are not EA eligible.
Work with private entities to add short-term, temporary beds (up to 4 nights). This is an eligible use of funds of the federal Emergency Solutions Grant, which DHCD administers.
Establish a Client Services Unit in DHCD’s central office to handle client issues, emergency cases referred by service providers, legal services, legislative offices, and others. The Unit will coordinate efforts with DHCD’s legal team and homeless coordinators in local offices.
Hire seven additional Benefits Eligibility and Referral Social Workers (BERS), subject to appropriations, to cut down on wait times in local offices.
Assign client service representatives to higher volume Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) offices, subject to appropriation, to ensure EA applicants are taken care of while waiting for their application to be taken and to work with families at the office who are ineligible for EA.
Issue guidance to local housing authorities and other housing providers to make it clear that safe, temporary, doubled-up living situations will be allowed.
Improve the referral process for families currently in the Domestic Violence shelter system to lessen length of stays and to help families get re-housed.
Establish an ongoing working group with health centers and hospitals to improve the referral process to emergency shelter.