United Way
of Massachusetts Bay
and Merrimack Valley


What IF we could get closer to ending 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.

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.

Children’s HealthWatch

$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.

Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership

$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 within the 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
  • Scott Bailey, CEO, MassChallenge


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.

See the full press release here.

About IF

Innovating with Families, or IF, is a partnership between the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and the Boston College School of Social Work, designed to shape new relationships between social scientists and practitioners with the goal of finding innovative solutions to Greater Boston’s most pressing social problems.