Updates from the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless on Coronavirus Resources and Advocacy Opportunities
Coronavirus: Protecting People Experiencing Homelessness and Poverty
March 18, 2020
During these unprecedented times, the Coalition remains steadfast in our commitment to addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness, housing instability, and poverty in Massachusetts. As the Commonwealth and the world grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working each day to ensure that people experiencing homelessness are not forgotten as prevention, response, and relief efforts are undertaken.
We have been providing updates on resources and advocacy opportunities on our website and social media channels, and wanted to also share those updates with you here. We also want to hear from you about what you are seeing and what the unmet needs are in your community as the new reality sets in.
While the State House is closed to the public, we are continuing to advocate with legislators via phone, email, and video conferences for needed relief, as well as on existing key bills and budget campaigns to promote housing stability, economic supports, and human rights.
Please click here for details on new coronavirus-specific bills already filed, and stay tuned for more details on efforts to ensure supplemental funds for programs like the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition homelessness prevention program (RAFT), emergency shelter, and targeted services and safe places for unaccompanied youth.
On behalf of the entire team at the Coalition, we hope that you stay healthy, safe, kind, and committed!
MAHT brings more than 20 leaders to the National Alliance of HUD Tenants Save Our Homes Conference each year in Washington DC. This year, NAHT tenants met with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who pledged support for NAHT’s Tenant Empowerment legislation. Tenants also won a new Memo from HUD clarifying that tenants have the right to receive and appeal HUD inspection reports, and to get 24 hours notice from management before entering tenants’ apartments.
NAHT has proposed a comprehensive Tenant Empowerment Bill to allow tenants to participate in HUD inspections, and provide accountability tools such as rent withholding to pressure owners for repairs. In November, NAHT Board President Geraldine Collins and tenant lead-er Shalonda Rivers testified at a hearing of the Housing Subcommittee of Waters’ House Financial Services Committee regarding NAHT’s bill.
At the hearing, Waters commended NAHT for effective efforts to empower tenants. Waters has also convened a Roundtable with NAHT board leaders and housing industry representatives on December 5 and is expected to co-sponsor NAHT’s bill with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) in the coming weeks.
As MAHT has continued to win victories and save homes, new groups have been added, including renewed membership from the Ocean Shores Tenants Association in Lynn, and St. Botolph Terrace Tenants Association in the Fenway. MAHT led a workshop at Ocean Shores to hear the needs of tenants while offering well-tested strategies to produce results. The SBTTA plans a meeting with their owner soon.
Meanwhile, MAHT has held several meetings at Georgetwone Homes, 967 apartments in Hyde Park. In 2013, Georgetowne’s owner, Beacon Communities, received $130 million from HUD for major reno-vations. MAHT fought to have widespread water leaks and mold ad-dressed at the time, but tenants still report extensive water leaks, mold, sewage backup and rodent infestation. Referring to photo-graphs collected of units in 2013, MAHT organizers have gathered new photos revealing almost identical issues in many apartments. With these survey results, MAHT and Georgetowne Tenants United hope to solve these issues once and for all at a meeting with Beacon in the near future.
Many MAHT tenants, particularly in state-subsidized Section 13A mortgage buildings, receive rental assistance from the Mass Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). But for 25 years, low income MRVP ten-ants pay 40% of their income for rent.
MAHT has proposed legislation to lower MRVP rents from 40% to 30% of income, in line with the federal Section 8 pro-gram. MAHT tenants from the Forbes Building in Jamaica Plain and Mercantile Wharf in the North End met with Rep. Kevin Honan, Chair of the Housing Committee to support the plan.
MAHT is also helping to lead a new coalition, Housing and Environment Revenue Opportunities (HERO), to double the deeds excise tax and target $300 million for housing and climate—including $60 million for MRVP!
“ Every one of us in MRVP would feel more secure with dropping our 40% rent to 30% of income, and that security is crucial to help alleviate the stress it creates.” —Susan Strelec, Forbes Building
On August 20, 2019 MAHT celebrated the preservation of 97 affordable units at the Newcastle-Saranac Apartments in Lower Roxbury. As the building’s 40-year mortgage subsidy contract expired, owners planned to sell the building, potentially threaten-ing residents with displacement. MAHT organized the Newcastle-Saranac Tenants Association to save their homes in response.
Victory came when the Fenway CDC and partnering owner Richard J. Henken completed their purchase of the building and preservation of 97 units as affordable housing. Major repairs are planned in 2020.
Newcastle tenants helped win a $20 million grant from the City and Project Based Vouchers to support the sale, MAHT tenants also helped block an ill-advised scheme by the seller to threaten tenants with eviction unless they signed new leases in violation of state law.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined the celebration this past summer as tenants and partnering organizations honored the fight to save our homes at a preservation ceremony. His remarks commended the efforts of MAHT in organizing tenants to extend affordability at Newcastle-Saranac.
Although the preservation of these 97 units is an outstanding win, the fight must continue as rents for many ten-ants may still rise from 30% to 40% of income. As tenant leader Kim Wilson recounted on August 20th, “From the beginning of living here, I felt a sense of community with lovely neighbors that I could depend on.” MAHT contin-ues to support the Tenants Association in the next phase of their struggle.
Over 20 members of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants attended the 25th Annual National Alliance of HUD Tenants Conference to Save Our Homes! Tenant leaders won recognition awards for organizing, and led workshops on a variety of topics including resident ownership, how to remove an abusive manager, bullying in senior buildings and more! Tenant leaders also met with staff from Congresswoman Clark, Congresswoman Pressley and Congressman Lynch's office. Staff from Senator Markey and Senator Warren's offices also joined us at our Congressional Forum on Capitol Hill.
Concord Houses Tenants Association receives an award
Clarendon Residents United receives an award
Entire MAHT delegation receives an award for fundraising to get to DC
Entire MAHT delegation receives an award for fundraising to get to DC
Tenants attend workshops
MAHT Board leader Margaret Arneaud leads a workshop
Tenant leaders present on bullying in elderly/disabled housing
Julie Siegel (Warren) and Jeremy D'Aloiso (Markey) meet with NAHT!
The City Rent Subsidy Coalition, a Coalition of 32 organizations, rallied Saturday in front of One Dalton to ask that the City of Boston dedicate at least 50% of new property taxes from 5,100 luxury condos in Boston’s pipeline for City-funded rent subsidies to enable low income renters to stay in Boston. The proposal would supplement the federal Section 8 program by increasing low income units in new mixed income housing and providing “Housing First” to Boston residents who are currently experiencing homelessness. Protesters were joined by several members of the coalition, including Community Development Corporations, Boston Democratic Socialists, HousingWorks, several Tenants Associations, ACTUP Boston and the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee.
The group, headed by MAHT and the Save Our Section 8 Committee, wrote Walsh in January 2018 urging him to earmark new property taxes from luxury condos like The Dalton for this purpose. The 160 “super luxury” condos at One Dalton are selling for an several million dollars each, with the top floor fetching $40 million. Opening this spring, the property is expected to generate at least $9 million a year in property taxes.
The Mayor’s Housing Report, Housing in a Changing City, identified 21,100 families earning less than $25,000 per year who will need rent subsidies to stay in the City. “We applaud Mayor Walsh for recently winning 1,000 new Section 8 subsidies from HUD,” said Michael Kane of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants. “That’s a huge step toward meeting the needs of Boston renters—but much more is needed to prevent displacement. The Dalton alone will generate enough new property taxes to get another 900 homeless people off the streets and into permanently affordable housing.” Kane called for The Dalton’s developers and condo owners to support using their property taxes for this purpose.
In addition to the 1,800 luxury high rise units such as Millennium Towers that have already opened, the Coalition has researched 5,100 “super luxury” units in the pipeline, including The Dalton, that will bring in more than $100 million in “new growth” property taxes in the next four years.
Last week, the Coalition proposed to City officials that 50% of these funds be used to create 5,000 low income rent subsidies for a Boston Rental Affordability Program (Boston RAP) over the next four years. The City’s Neighborhood Housing Trust will consider Councilor Lydia Edwards proposal for Boston RAP at its June meeting.
The Mayor’s 2020 budget includes “new growth” property tax revenues of $50 million. An estimated $16 million of this amount is generated by 800 new luxury units that came on line last year. 50% of these funds would generate $8 million to assist at least 800 low income renters this year alone. Revenue from the Dalton is expected to start in 2021.
“My company handles the waitlists for 100s of properties in the Boston area. We see that the number of full-time employed households who are homeless or at-risk has exploded in the last several years. But a household that works in Boston ought to be able to remain in Boston. Since the displacement of these families is partly due to the explosion of new, non-affordable units, it is so appropriate that tax from the developments causing the displacement be used to fun project-based vouchers for those who have been displaced,” said John LaBella of HousingWorks and Mass Association of Community Development Corporations.
The program, if funded by the City of Boston, could contribute to desperately needed deeply affordable housing in new construction across the city. "'Affordable housing' isn't affordable to those who need it most. We should be asking 'affordable to who?'", said Cherai Mills of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee.
The Coalition’s most recent letter to the Mayor and other background information can be found at www.cityrentsubsidycoalition.org.
Thank you to Representative Michelwitz and the House Ways and Means committee for recommending an increase in Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) funding to $110 million! This is a great start and Representative Donato has filed an amendment to return MRVP to historical funding levels of at least $130 million per year. Over the past several months, MAHT has been working with our partners in the Building Blocks and Housing Solutions Campaigns to advocate for increased funding for MRVP to assist low-income tenants, increase low-income housing production and preserve MRVP housing components in many 13A buildings. As constituents, the Mercantile Wharf Tenants Association met with Representative Michelwitz to push for increased funding for MRVP to keep them in their homes and preserve the units for future low-income tenants in desperate need of deeply affordable housing. 13A tenants clearly had an impact in this process and will continue to fight for an even larger increase in MRVP through Representative Donato's amendment, in the Senate budget and final budget!