The majority of the lowest-income renters in Massachusetts spend more than half of their income on housing alone, putting them at risk of homelessness, according to a newly released report.
On Thursday morning, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released their annual “The Gap” report, which looks at the shortage of affordable homes across the country. According to the report, the US needs 7 million more rental homes that are both affordable and available to extremely low-income renter households, in order to meet demand.
No state or major metropolitan area has enough rental housing for its lowest-income renters, the report said. In fact, the NLIHC found that, for every 10 extremely low-income renter households nationwide, fewer than four rental homes are affordable and available. That leaves 71 percent of these households severely cost-burdened.
“Seven out of 10 renters with the lowest incomes – disproportionately people of color – are at severe risk of housing instability due to systemic inequities and federal underfunding of proven solutions,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel.
In Massachusetts there are 47 rental homes for every 100 extremely low-income (also known as ELI) households, which are households with incomes at or below the poverty level of $32,000 for a household of four. In Rhode Island, that number is 51. In New Hampshire, it’s 37.
In all, the report said, Massachusetts needs 163,318 more affordable and available rental homes to house its 305,367 extremely low-income households.
The high cost of housing, relative to income, “leaves families little for household essentials, food, health, and child care,” said Eric Shupin, the director of public policy at Citizens’ Housing & Planning Association, an affordable housing advocacy group. “These families across the state are just one paycheck away or one emergency away from becoming homeless.”
Massachusetts ranks No. 3 as the most expensive state in which to live, where minimum wage earners would have to work at least 107 hours each week in order to afford an average, two-bedroom apartment. Hourly workers would need to earn at least $36.24 an hour in order to afford such an apartment, according to NLIHC data that was pulled last year for its “Out of Reach” report.
Because of the state’s high cost of living, many are getting pushed out of their homes. Last year’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found that, on a single night in January 2021, nearly 14,000 people in Massachusetts were living in shelters, transitional housing or other temporary settings. That is more than any other state besides New York and California.
In January, nearly 3,000 families were in emergency assistance shelters in Massachusetts, which is an increase from approximately 2,680 families in July 2021, said Kelly Turley, associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
“I’m not at all surprised by [The Gap report’s] findings. In Massachusetts, it’s not uncommon for households to be cost-burdened,” said Turley, who primarily works with extremely low-income families.
She said the coalition is pushing lawmakers to allocate additional funds toward emergency rental assistance to keep households in their existing units. The federal government stopped taking applications for its program April 15. Families can now apply for the more-targeted, state-funded Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program.
“But households can only receive up to $7,000 over a 12-month period, if they are even eligible,” said Turley. “That’s an important resource. But $7,000 in this state doesn’t go very far, especially for those families that lost income during the pandemic or are just getting back to work now.”
Massachusetts’s lowest-income renters were disproportionately impacted by the effects of the pandemic. There were federally mandated eviction moratoriums and protections in place, but those have since lifted. Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill into law last summer that was designed to help prevent evictions in cases where tenants were unable to pay rent due to COVID-19-related hardships. That protection was extended through March 2023.
Shupin said further housing investment is necessary on the state and federal level, including additional resources into Section 8 and Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (known as MRVP), which provides rental subsidies to those eligible for the program.
The state was also flushed with cash after it received $5.6 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding last year from Congress. Massachusetts lawmakers have dedicated approximately $600 million of that funding toward affordable housing so far, which includes investments in supportive housing production, public housing maintenance, homeownership assistance, and housing preservation.
But Shupin said CHAPA and other housing advocates said more is needed; and will continue advocating to state lawmakers to earmark a total investment of at least $1.6 billion of ARPA funds toward affordable housing.
“We have a responsibility to build more housing across all incomes, but especially for our lowest-income families,” said Shupin.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.