United Way and Boston College School of Social Work Announce Winners of IF Challenge Prize Competition to End Family Homelessness

September 22, 2016


BOSTON – What IF we could get closer to ending family homelessness in the state of Massachusetts? An inaugural competition sponsored by the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and the Boston College School of Social Work (BCSSW) has engaged three area organizations to attempt to do just this.

The three winning solutions in the inaugural IF Challenge Prize to End Family Homelessness are diverse in their approaches, and include: taking an existing and successful eviction prevention program to scale, developing an app to connect families to housing resources, and building a campaign to leverage the highly successful Earned Income Tax Credit program to help low-income working families pay for the cost of housing.

The winners will be honored this morning at an event in South Boston.

Open to nonprofit 501c3 organizations in Massachusetts, the goal of the IF Challenge competition was to identify innovative, cost-effective and feasible ideas to reduce family homelessness in the state. The winning ideas will receive a mix of cash prize funding, technological assistance and/or hardware to implement their solution. The winners are:

  • $20,000 will be awarded to HomeStart to expand a successful eviction prevention program that is currently run in partnership with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA). According to HomeStart, evictions for non-payment of rent make up the vast majority (85%) of eviction cases in Boston Housing Court. HomeStart’s partnership with the BHA provides one-on-one case management with families facing eviction to identify why they were unable to make payments and connect them to emergency assistance and other resources to remain in their housing.  From 2010-2013 this partnership preserved tenancy for 554 residents, with 97% of them still in housing after one year.  Prize funds will be used to create a Homelessness Prevention Toolkit that HomeStart will use to replicate its eviction prevention program with private property development owners, potentially preventing thousands of families per year from experiencing homelessness.
  • $15,000 will be awarded to Children’s HealthWatch to research and lead a campaign for a tailored Earned Income Tax Credit, adjusted for the regional cost of housing, to help low- and lower-middle income families pay for housing in Massachusetts. A Massachusetts family housing EITC would increase the ability of working families to afford existing market-rate housing in the short-term, and could spur creation of additional units as more people can afford market rents without falling behind on other necessary expenses; this could help address supply issues.
  • $20,000 in a mix of funding, hardware and technological consulting will be awarded to the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership to develop a housing app to assess families’ eligibility for programs and connect them to affordable housing resources, including available rental subsidies, local and regional contacts and non-financial solutions. MBHP anticipates that the app will streamline processes for finding resources and will secure help for more families, more quickly.  The app will be designed for wide use to share knowledge, and will also increase the number of advocates for affordable housing.

Winning solutions were evaluated by a panel of six judges chosen by United Way and BCSSW, along with experts from the two organizations.  The judges were:    Shanta Pandey, Professor, Boston College School of Social Work;  Tom Byrne, Professor, Boston University; Jere Doyle, Entrepreneur & Director, Shea Center for Entrepreneurship, Carroll School of Management at Boston College;  Jan Cooper, retired partner, Deloitte and United Way Board member; Amanda Andere, CEO, Funders Together to End Homelessness; and Scott Bailey, CEO, MassChallenge.

“Our goal with the IF Challenge was to surface innovative, research-backed and feasible ideas that can be taken to a larger scale,” says Michael K. Durkin, President at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Homelessness does not always begin, or look, the way most people think it does; it is often caused by a combination of complex factors.  Tackling it is not something that a single organization can do alone. We’re proud to partner with Boston College and the winning organizations — HomeStart, Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership and Children’s HealthWatch – to help change the landscape of family homelessness in Massachusetts.”

“The IF Challenge winners represent bold, innovative ideas to end family homelessness,” says Stephanie Berzin, Associate Professor and Chair of the children, youth, and families concentration at BCSSW, and the Co-Director of the school’s Center for Social Innovation. “These projects have the potential to fundamentally shift how we respond to this critical issue and we look forward to working collaboratively with these organizations.”

In addition to prize money from the United Way, the Boston College School of Social Work will provide the winning organizations with technology build-out and support, assistance with project evaluation, and three sessions with its Center for Social Innovation on the implementation of their proposals.

“As a human services nonprofit, we don’t often have the time and resources to think about technology very often,” says Kelly Mulligan, Chief Program Officer at HomeStart. “We’re excited that the IF Challenge has provided us with the opportunity to do just this, and to take advantage of the resources of the United Way and the Boston College School of Social Work. Together, we aim to find novel ways to build, and then scale, our existing eviction prevention program model towards preventing more and more families from experiencing homelessness across Massachusetts, and the country.”

“Children’s HealthWatch is honored to have been awarded an IF Challenge prize, and to be selected along with peers who represent some of the leading provider organizations and thinkers in Massachusetts,” says Justin Pasquariello, Executive Director of Children’s HealthWatch at Boston Medical Center. “Through this award and our collaborations with the United Way and Boston College School of Social Work, we look forward to continuing to pursue the idea that an increased earned income tax credit—designed specifically to make housing affordable for working families—can be a system-changing idea that improves housing stability and child health and development for hardworking families across the Commonwealth.”

“MBHP is excited to have been awarded an IF Challenge Prize, which will help us to develop a customer-friendly web-based application that our participants can use to better navigate the affordable housing field in greater Boston,” says Steven Farrell, Director of Communications, Development, and Policy Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership. “Our hope is that this technology will help the many families that have smart phones to more easily engage in housing search, learn about and register for workshops, connect with affordable housing resources, and overall empower at-risk families to find the resources they need to improve their lives.”

In Massachusetts, there are over 3,800 homeless families living in shelters or motels, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development. Homelessness has particularly adverse effects on children and youth including hunger, poor physical and mental health, and missed educational opportunities.  For example, 97% of homeless children move at least once on an annual basis, which leads to disruptions in school that can have a negative impact on academic achievement. Homeless children are twice as likely to have a learning disability, repeat a grade, or to be suspended from school.


About IF:
Innovating with Families, or IF, is a partnership between the United Way (UW) and the Boston College School of Social Work (BCSSW) designed to shape new relationships between social scientists and practitioners, towards finding innovative solutions to Greater Boston’s most pressing social problems.

For further information, please contact:

Brigid Boyd
Vice President, Strategic Awareness and Communications
United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley
617.624.8252 (o);  339.236.1161 (c)

Nate Herpich
Senior Writer & Editor
Boston College School of Social Work