Unprecedented State Investment Creates Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity to End Homelessness in Massachusetts

The passage of over $150 million in funds to create more supportive housing through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is an historic moment for the movement to end homelessness in Massachusetts.  At a recent virtual legislative breakfast hosted by State Representative Jim Hawkins, United Way and the Southcoast Coalition to End Homelessness, federal, state, and local leaders told us why this is such an important moment in the Commonwealth.  

Here’s what we learned. 

The $150 million earmark to create permanent, supportive housing for individuals, families and youth experiencing chronic homelessness is unprecedented.  

In fact, it’s nearly eight times the amount typically spent each year in Massachusetts. While the state has until the end of fiscal year 2026 to spend these funds, the sizeable investment shows a commitment to providing not only housing, but the intensive case management services that offer the best shot at ensuring our most vulnerable populations thrive.  

“With the $5 billion in federal money sent to Massachusetts, we have a huge opportunity to invest in housing production and services,” said U.S. Representative Jake Auchincloss. Up next for the federal government: passage of an infrastructure bill that could provide critical funding to expand access to public transportation and create more incentives for the development of affordable housing.   

“We have a unique opportunity to strengthen the coordination and delivery of supportive services that help people exit streets/homeless encampments, doubled-up housing, and the shelter system,” said Bob Giannino, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Homelessness was already increasing in the years preceding the pandemic, which has since exacerbated housing insecurity in Massachusetts. This one-time investment in housing infrastructure and services will build a solid foundation for economic recovery by expanding access to safe, decent, affordable homes for our next generation.”

Supportive housing is a highly effective, cost-efficient strategy. 

It combines affordable housing with intensive, coordinated services to help people who have severe and persistent physcial and behavioral health issues move into safe housing and access the preventive and supportive services that help them remain there. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this model saves an average of over $6,000 a year per person in healthcare costs. Furthermore, according to the Massachusetts Pay For Success Initiative, a partnership of United Way, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance and Corporation for Supportive Housing, 84% of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness who receive supportive services and a housing voucher remain housed one year later.  

“We’re ready for a paradigm shift to end homelessness in Massachusetts,” said State Senator Paul Feeney. “We can see what works, programs like Pay for Success and Home and Healthy for Good, and double down on those approaches.”

State Representative Joan Meschino has filed legislation to codify this approach. H.3838 would create a flexible housing pool to help meet the complex housing and health needs of individuals, youth and families experiencing homelessness. The goal of this bill is to expand supportive housing and services for adults, youth, and families experiencing homelessness, and enable funds to get out quickly and equitably to those that need it most.  The legislation was reported out favorably by the Joint Committee on Housing on February 1.

“This legislation would represent a shift from crisis management to stability,” said Representative Meschino.  “My hope is by doing this, we can serve people more efficiently and therefore be able to serve even more individuals, youth and families experiencing chronic homelessness.”

Stable housing leads to better health and economic outcomes 

Stable housing reflects, at its core, that families have a choice of where they live. Stable housing results in fewer moves for children in school, consistent commutes for parents to work and economic benefits from savings in costly services such as shelters, emergency rooms and addiction treatment centers. 

“A stable home provides a platform for better outcomes in health, jobs and education,” said State Representative Carol Doherty. 

Alignment is the key 

As Congressman Auchincloss noted, there is a lot of funding coming to Massachusetts from the federal government, but there is a lot of demand for it as well. The watchword, he says, is alignment. 

“The projects that will succeed are those that are aligned at the federal, state and local levels, and we should leverage the expertise of the housing provider community to help with that alignment,” said Congressman Auchincloss. 

“The pandemic has proven that relying exclusively on congregate sheltering is not a long-term solution, and I am proud and grateful that our movement to shift from strictly sheltering people toward actually housing people is gaining traction,” said Senator Feeney. “Believe me when I say that through common sense and bold action, we can END chronic homelessness in Massachusetts.”