Broad Coalition Urges Support of Legislation to Expand Supportive Housing and Services Across the Commonwealth

July 5, 2023

BOSTON – A broad coalition of more than 80 housing advocates and providers, healthcare institutions, and nonprofit and philanthropic leaders recently urged the Joint Committee on Housing to favorably report out legislation sponsored by State Representative Joan Meschino and State Senator Brendan Crighton that would transform the Commonwealth’s homeless response system and help scale the availability of supportive housing throughout Massachusetts. It is estimated that the Commonwealth needs to stably house 4,000 households with supportive housing across the state by January 2027 as a major step toward ending chronic and high need homelessness.

House Bill 1354/ Senate Bill 855 – An Act to create and implement a Massachusetts Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool Program – would create a new Massachusetts Flexible Housing Pool (MFHP) – a nationally-proven model that combines public and private resources to help meet the complex housing and health needs of individuals, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.

The goal of this bill, which is championed by United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Supportive Housing Coalition 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 state administers and funds dozens of programs to support individuals, youth, and families who are high utilizers of crisis services, including behavioral health, emergency room health care, shelters and more. Currently, the burden is on housing providers, or even the residents who are in crisis themselves, to navigate funding from multiple state and federal housing, health care and human services agencies and access the services to stabilize them.

“This legislation envisions a new model, one that shifts from a crisis-response approach to one that promotes housing stability,” said State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull). “The Commonwealth provides strong state-funded housing and other aid programs through an array of agencies. However, these programmatic silos thwart integrated statewide solutions. This bill bridges barriers and gaps between existing homelessness resources to support the chronically homeless, who are often medically complex, to exit streets and shelters and to access permanent housing.”

“Creating a supportive housing flexible funding pool will allow us to quickly and most effectively serve our most vulnerable residents in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn). “By taking a more coordinated approach, we can provide the types of stable housing opportunities they need, while also reducing the strain on our emergency services.”

By design, the Flex Pool model supports a variety of service programs and populations through a diverse pool of funder and provider partnerships. The Flex Pool is rooted in principles of Housing First and harm reduction. Over the past eight years, over 10,000 households, most with long histories of homelessness, successfully accessed and sustained housing through Flex Pool models across California alone. In Massachusetts, more than 1,100 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness accessed supportive housing through the innovative Pay for Success partnership, and more than 85% remained housed after one year.

“The Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool (Flex Pool) is a nationally-recognized model for scaling supportive housing that helps thousands of people – individuals, families, and young adults exit homelessness and institutionalization each year,” said Christi Staples, Vice President of Policy and Government Relations at United Way of Massachusetts Bay. “By combining, streamlining, and maximizing government and private investments and leveraging existing housing stock, this proposal would help spur the development and construction of new supportive housing units. We must follow data driven, best practices to achieve our Massachusetts housing goals over the next 10 years, and this model is proven to be the most effective solution.”

“Massachusetts is in the midst of a housing crisis, and the lack of housing inventory most significantly impacts people experiencing homelessness, particularly those with complex medical and behavioral health conditions,” said Joyce Tavon, CEO at the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance. “Communities across the Commonwealth report growing unsheltered homelessness, and preliminary results for the January 2023 Point-in-Time Count shows unsheltered homelessness among unaccompanied increased by approximately 23%. Yet we also know that Massachusetts has housing models that work to end homelessness – the challenge is to bring them to scale to meet the need.”

For the Commonwealth to thrive, we need 200,000 new homes by the end of the decade, with 40,000 affordable and 20,000 deeply affordable homes,” said Abhi Kurve, Deputy Director of Public Policy at Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association. “Permanent supportive housing is a key part of the solution. Bills H.1354 and S. 855 improve the coordination and delivery of supportive services within affordable housing. This can help people move off the streets, out of overcrowded housing or unsafe housing, and transition from shelters, hospitals, and jails into stable and healthy homes. Permanent supportive housing ensures that our most vulnerable neighbors have a solid foundation to thrive.”

Last week’s hearing also included testimony from Pine Street Inn, Heading Home, Inc., HomeStart, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, Community Teamwork Inc, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Massachusetts Association of Mental Health, Caritas Communities, Winn Companies and Beacon Communities.

The Flex Pool is a contracting structure and set of partnerships that can support a variety of housing programs. It is not a housing program unto itself. That said, housing programs within the Flex Pool model have a consistent set of tools and staffing. Most notably, a Flex Pool implementation will always include rental subsidies, flexible resources and dedicated staff to identify, secure and match clients to unites, support services such as case management and tenancy supports and administrative capacity to move quickly.

The flexible pool would bundle capital, operating and supportive services funding streams so that the most vulnerable community members can get the housing and services they need and shifts the burden from providers to pull resources together from multiple sources.

Research shows that supportive housing most effectively and efficiently meets the needs of families and individuals in crisis by combining affordable housing with intensive, coordinated services to help people struggling with substance use disorders, chronic physical and behavioral health issues maintain stable housing and access critical health care services. According to a national study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this model saves an average of over $6,000 a year per person in healthcare costs.

The Massachusetts Pay for Success Initiative to Reduce Chronic Homelessness – a partnership between the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, and United Way – shows that this model works. Over the past six years, this Pay for Success Initiative has served more than 1,000 vulnerable individuals and has demonstrated savings to healthcare costs in the amount of $5,257 per person per year. 84% of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness who receive supportive services and a housing voucher remain housed one year later.

The Supportive Housing Coalition is a statewide collaborative made up of more than 80 cross-sector partners including healthcare, housing developers, service providers, and municipal and Continuum of Care leaders. The Coalition is chaired by United Way of Mass Bay, CHAPA and MHSA, and has developed a formal policy agenda and rallied members to support policy change. The Coalition is setting targets for housing production across the spectrum of affordability and it has developed working groups that focus on building system capacity, leveraging data, municipal engagement, and engaging partners with lived expertise.

Organizations signing on as of June 2023 include:

United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

Berkshire United Way
Cape and Islands United Way
Northern Berkshire United Way
United Way of Central Massachusetts
United Way of Fall River
United Way of Greater Plymouth County
United Way of Greater Fall River
United Way of Pioneer Valley
United Way of South Central MA
United Way of Tri-County

Action Inc.
Arise For Social Justice
Asian Community Development Corporation
Catholic Charities
Catholic Social Services
Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance
Children’s Law Center of MA
City of Taunton, Department of Human Services
Community Action Agency of Somerville, Inc.
Community Counseling of Bristol County
CRE Strategic Advisors
East Boston Social Centers
Eliot CHS/Homeless Services
Eliot Community Human Services
Emmaus Inc.
Everett Haitian Community Center (EHCC)
Family Service Association
FamilyAid Boston
Father Bill’s and MainSpring
Gandara Center
Harborlight Community Partners
Heading Home
Health Imperatives
Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center
Homes For Families
HomeStart, Inc.
IBA-Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción
Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford
La Colaborativa
La Comunidad, Inc.
Latinos unidos en Massachusetts
LEO Inc.
Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development
Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems
Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
MassHire Holyoke
New Hope Inc.
North Shore Community Development Coalition
Nuestra Comunidad
Pine Street Inn
Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)
Project Hope
Somerville Homeless Coalition, Inc.
South Coast Regional Network to End Homelessness
South Coast Leadership Council to End Homelessness
Southeastern Massachusetts SER-Jobs for Progress, Inc
The Arc of Bristol County
The Home for Little Wanderers
The Neighborhood Developers / CONNECT, Chelsea
Union Capital Boston
Urban Edge
Victory Programs, Inc
Wellspring House, Inc.
Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness
YWCA Malden
YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Altizer, Office of State Representative Joan Meschino