Advocacy

October 16 Action Alert: TODAY on the MA ID Bill

Yesterday, the MA Joint Transportation Committee heard testimony on the MA ID Bill – S. 2043/H. 3066 – to make it possible to obtain a MA ID with a fee waiver and with alternative residency requirements so a permanent address is not necessary. Legal identification is critical to obtaining employment, education, financial accounts and of course stable housing. The Network submitted written testimony in support of this bill.

TODAY, the House will debate its Supplemental Budget. Representative Representatives Khan of Newton and O’Day of West Boylston have filed Amendment #45 to the budget that would make this legislative change happen now. Please call or email your Representative TODAY to encourage their adoption of this Amendment.

You can find your legislator here.

Thank you!

FY20 State Budget is final and so is good news for housing and homelessness priorities!

Governor Baker signed into law the FY20 budget of $43.32 billion yesterday without any spending vetoes. This is great news for the Commonwealth in general and for housing and homelessness priorities in particular.  A reminder on a few of the highlights (see full breakdown here):

  • Mass Rental Voucher Program: an increase to $110 million (plus $6 million carryover from FY19), and adoption of language that allows monthly rent levels to match current fair market rents for subsidies issued after August 1, 2019
  • Individual shelter funding: $53.35 million, a $5 million increase from last year (with the gap in equitable funding for Western MA still remaining)
  • RAFT: an increase to $21 million, which will include a pilot program to help households further upstream, prior to facing eviction
  • Youth and Young Adult Homelessness: an increase to $5 million ($1.7 million above FY19) to support housing and wrap-around services for unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness
  • Secure Jobs Initiative: an increase to $2 million for this workforce development program for families and individuals at risk of or experiencing homelessness

Regionally, Berkshire County secured $125,000 for its winter overflow shelter capacity.  And the Network itself secured $75,000 to continue its work coordinating efforts across the region.  Special thanks to Senator Jo Comerford for shepherding the Network’s funding allocation and for all of our Western MA delegation for their steadfast support of the Network and all of the priorities reflected in this budget.  We are so fortunate to have their leadership and commitment.

We look forward to seizing the opportunities this budget offers and moving ever closer to the system change that is necessary to create lasting housing stability for all.  

Onward!

The FY20 Conference Committee Budget: Good news!

Yesterday, the House and Senate voted to adopt the Conference Committee’s proposed FY20 budget. A resounding THANK YOU to our fabulous Western MA delegation for their leadership in making this budget possible. It contains significant steps forward in our mission to prevent and end homelessness, including many Network priorities:

  • Mass Rental Voucher Program: an increase to $110 million (plus $6 million carryover from FY19), and adoption of language that allows monthly rent levels to match current fair market rents for subsidies issued after August 1, 2019
  • RAFT: an increase to $21 million, which will include a pilot program to help households further upstream, prior to facing eviction
  • Youth and Young Adult Homelessness: an increase to $5 million ($1.7 million above FY19) to support housing and wrap-around services for unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness
  • Secure Jobs Initiative: an increase to $2 million for this workforce development program for families and individuals at risk of or experiencing homelessness
  • Regional Transit Authorities: an increase to $90.5 million in funding for transit authorities, a meaningful step forward (with so much more to go)
  • Adult Base Education/ESOL: an increase to $41 million for this critical resource to support a path towards economic stability for people experiencing homelessness

On a regional level, our legislators also secured two earmarks specific to homelessness:

  • $125,000 for winter overflow shelter in Berkshire County
  • $75,000 for the Network itself (special thanks to Senator Jo Comerford for making that possible!)

Click here for a breakdown of additional Network priorities and funding comparisons.

Now our attention turns to the Governor’s office.  Please reach out to urge Governor Baker to support these priorities and this budget as a whole. You can do so by going here: https://www.mass.gov/orgs/governors-office-of-constituent-services

To learn more about housing and homelessness priorities, also see Mass Coalition for the Homeless’ budget update here.

Thank you for your partnership!

A big day on Beacon Hill for the Network’s legislative agenda

I am pleased to provide an update on the Network’s legislative activity that culminated in hearings on Beacon Hill yesterday regarding 5 of the Network’s legislative priorities: 

The Network submitted testimony on these bills (see Right to Counsel/HOMES here; Cliff Effects here; Act of Living here). We brought Western Massachusetts into the room!

We also had amazing legislative leadership and support for these priorities so first and foremost, THANK YOU to our Western MA delegation.

A few special thanks are in order on both a state and local level to: 

  • Senator Jo Comerford for both her lead sponsorship of the data transparency bill in relation to cliff effects and for testifying in support of Right to Counsel and the HOMES Act (while chairing her Public Health Committee hearing simultaneously!). Check out her testimony on Right to Counsel and HOMES that draws on the Network’s commitment as fueling her mission.
  • Representative Lindsay Sabadosa who provided powerful testimony on Right to Counsel based on her first-hand experience as an observer in Housing Court. 
  • Senator Eric Lesser and Representative Aaron Vega for their lead sponsorship of the cliff effect pilot program that will provide a model for families gaining stability while their employment income increases.
  • Senator Adam Hinds for submitting testimony in support of HOMES and Representative Mindy Domb for standing in support of Right to Counsel and HOMES.
  • And to the other members of the Network Leadership Council – Senators Anne Gobi and Jim Welch, and Representatives Natalie Blais, Dan Carey, Michael Finn, Carlos Gonzalez, Paul Mark, Smitty Pignatelli, Jose Tosado, John Velis and Bud Williams – for their co-sponsorship of one or more of these bills. 
  • Northampton City Council for its Resolution in support of Right to Counsel and HOMES bills
  • Springfield City Council for its Resolution in support of Right to Counsel
  • Mayor David Narkewicz on behalf of the City of Northampton in support of the Cliff Effect bills
  • Our Network partners, including Berkshire Regional Housing Authority, ServiceNet, United Way of Hampshire County, Way Finders and more, for taking the time to individually express their support as well.  

Of course this process will continue to unfold – it’s not too late to submit your organization’s testimony! – and the Network will continue to collaborate with our elected leaders and partners to ensure Western Massachusetts’ voices reach Beacon Hill. We are being heard, and we are making a difference together. 

Senator Comerford and Representative Sabadosa testifying before the Judiciary Committee on the Right to Counsel and HOMES bills.

TODAY: Join National Tweetstorm or Comment to Keep Families Together

Please see this action alert below from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Whether it’s a tweet or submitting a comment, it will take only a minute and we have until the deadline of TOMORROW, July 9, to be heard!

From NLICH:
Thanks to your efforts, over 10,000 comments have been submitted in response to HUD’s cruel proposal to evict 25,000 mixed-status immigrant families – including more than 55,000 children who are U.S. citizens or have legal status – from HUD-assisted housing.

To build on this success, NLIHC, the National Housing Law Project, and other leaders are calling for a national tweetstorm on Monday, July 8 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET to encourage organizations and individuals to submit comments before the July 9 deadline. Be sure to include #KeepFamiliesTogether in your tweets.

You can also submit a comment here.

How You Can Participate!

NLIHC and NHLP are leading the effort to oppose HUD’s harmful and cruel proposal and have developed resources to help you draft and submit comments, including a Myth vs. Fact factsheet, a Spanish language commenting portal and fact sheet, and state and demographic data. Comments are most useful when they contain original language.

Check out our social media toolkit and other resources at: www.Keep-Families-Together.org

Some suggested tweets are below:

  • A proposal to evict over 100,000 people during a housing crisis is unconscionable. Let @SecretaryCarson know that children belong with their families. Send comments by July 9 at www.Keep-Families-Together.org #KeepFamiliesTogether  
  • The HUD proposed rule to prohibit “mixed-status” families from living in federally subsidized housing is cruel. Tell @SecretaryCarson to #KeepFamilesTogether by submitting comments by July 9  www.Keep-Families-Together.org
  • HUD does NOT fund undocumented immigrants living in subsidized housing! The new proposed rule would break up families & do little to shorten waitlists. #KeepFamiliesTogether Tell @SecretaryCarson NO to this cruel rule! #protectfamilies www.Keep-Families-Together.org
  • @SecretaryCarson’s unconscionable proposal would evict over 100k people, incl. 55k deeply poor kids that are US citizens or legal residents, at the height of an #affordablehousing crisis. Let HUD know by July 9 that you oppose this rule www.Keep-Families-Together.org #KeepFamiliesTogether
  • #FACTS: Undocumented immigrants do NOT receive housing subsidies–it’s not allowed in law. HUD’s rule isn’t for shortening housing waiting lists but for instilling fear in families. Tell @SecretaryCarson we will not stand for this! www.Keep-Families-Together.org #KeepFamiliesTogether
  • Prohibiting “mixed-status” families from being able to live together is cruel & unnecessary. Tell @SecretaryCarson to #KeepFamiliesTogether by July 9 www.Keep-Families-Together.org #protectfamilies 
  • HUD’s “mixed-status” families rule places thousands, incl. 55,000 children that are US citizens or legal residents, at risk of homelessness. #KeepFamiliesTogether. Tell @SecretaryCarson you stand against splitting up/evicting families by July 9 www.Keep-Families-Together.org
  • Hsg stability is crucial for getting families on a path to a better life. HUD’s proposed “mixed-status” rule threatens this path for some low-income immigrants. #KeepFamiliesTogether, support housing asst. for people w/ greatest needs www.Keep-Families-Together.org
  • DUE JULY 9: Submit comments now & tell HUD to #KeepFamiliesTogether www.Keep-Families-Together.org
  • The time is NOW to let HUD know that its proposed rule to force 25K “mixed-status” immigrant-families (incl. 55k children) to separate or face eviction is just cruel! Submit comments before the July 9 deadline #KeepFamiliesTogether www.Keep-Families-Together.org
  • Speak the Truth, @SecretaryCarson! The “mixed-status” immigration rule is based on a lie! Let HUD know that we will not stand for the cruel proposal. Submit comments by July 9 at www.Keep-Families-Together.org #KeepFamiliesTogether
  • Let’s be clear. Federal subsidies DO NOT support undocumented immigrants! Then why is @SecretaryCarson proposing such a cruel rule? Let HUD know that a proposal like this will not stand. Send comments by July 9 at www.Keep-Families-Together.org #KeepFamiliesTogether

Action Alert! Still time to weigh in on FY20 budget for housing and homelessness priorities

Please see this alert below from the MA Coalition for the Homeless:

With July 1st just around the corner, the Legislature is working to finalize the FY’20 state budget before the new fiscal year launches.

We want to make sure the budget that emerges is as strong as possible on homelessness, housing, and benefits issues. Please join the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless today in asking your State Representative and State Senator to support key items in the fiscal year 2020 Conference Committee budget so as to prevent and end homelessness among families, unaccompanied youth, and adults.
Since June 5th, the three House and three Senate members who make up the FY’20 Budget Conference Committee have been meeting to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. The conferees are Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, Senate Ways and Means Vice Chair Cindy Friedman, Senate Ways and Means Ranking Minority Member Viriato (Vinny) deMacedo, House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, House Ways and Means Vice Chair Denise Garlick, and House Ways and Means Ranking Minority Member Todd Smola.


Thank you to everyone who already has signed and shared our latest one-minute online action in support of the Coalition’s FY’20 budget priorities for the Conference Committee stage of the budget process. If you haven’t participated yet, there still is time to sign the online letter and to then share the link with family, friends, and colleagues. The actions will be sent to your State Senator and Representative, asking them actively to weigh in in support of the deepest investments and most helpful budget language possible. If you prefer printing and mailing the letter, a downloadable PDF version is here.


The action highlights our requests for:
• Senate-proposed language for the Emergency Assistance family shelter program to ensure that children and families do not have to stay in places not meant for human habitation before accessing shelter, and Senate-proposed funding level of $178.7 million, which is $13 million more than the House-proposed level (EA, line item 7004-0101). We are grateful that both the House and Senate budgets would allow families to retain shelter benefits while increasing their incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines (before the existing grace period would begin).
• Senate-proposed funding of $5 million for housing and wraparound services for unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness (line item 4000-0007), which is $1.7 million more than the House-proposed level
• Senate-proposed funding of $21 million for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition homelessness prevention program (RAFT, line item 7004-9316), which is $1 million more than the House-proposed level
• House-proposed direct funding of $110 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024), which is $6 million more than the Senate-proposed direct appropriation, and Senate-proposed language that would update the allowable monthly rent levels to match current fair market rents for mobile subsidies issued or renewed on or after August 1st and that would carry over $6,000,000 in unspent FY’19 funds


Here is our Conference Committee page and updated FY’20 budget chart, with our analysis of key line items related to homelessness, housing, and benefits, including our Conference Committee requests in columns O and P.


Yesterday’s release of the 2019 Out of Reach report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition underscores the urgency of our work.Massachusetts is now ranked as the third least affordable state in the nation for renters, leaving far too many of our community members experiencing homelessness and housing instability. We must do all we can to secure state funds for homelessness prevention, long-term housing, wraparound services, and income supports. Please take action today with us.


We are in the homestretch now. Thanks for your collaboration!  

Network Letter in Support of Amherst Affordable Housing Development

The Valley Community Development Corporation is proposing to develop 28 supportive studio units of affordable housing in Amherst. Unfortunately, some residents of the neighborhood are organizing intensely in opposition. Below is the text of a letter the Network sent to the Amherst Town Council, FYI.

The Town of Amherst is hosting a COMMUNITY FORUM: Monday, June 24, 6 pm Town Hall, Amherst.  This will be an open discussion.  The Amherst Affordable Housing Coalition encourages all to attend: “Even if you do not plan to speak, your presence alone will be important.  Wear your “I Support Affordable Housing’ button.”

If your organization would like to weigh in with positive neighborhood experiences around affordable housing developments, please do so!  Email towncouncil@Amherstma.gov (this email address reaches the entire council).

The Network’s letter in support:

Dear Amherst Town Council:

I am writing on behalf of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness (“Network”) in support of the Valley CDC’s proposal to develop 28 supportive studio apartment units at 132 Northampton Road. 

The Network, which includes hundreds of partners from every sector across the four Western Counties, creates collaborative solutions to prevent and end homelessness through a Housing First approach.  Our Leadership Council reflects the broad-based support of the Network’s mission.

As I’m sure you are aware, Massachusetts faces a significant  affordable housing crisis, and Amherst is no exception. Based on a recently released report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, we know that for every 100 extremely low income households in Massachusetts there are only 48.6 units available. In Amherst the gap is even larger, with only 42 units available for every 100 extremely low income individuals. 

We are extremely fortunate to have Valley CDC in our community, leading the way in the local response to this affordable housing crisis. This particular proposal is extremely sound, reflecting evidence-based best practices: well-designed housing units with available support services in a location that is accessible to public transportation and employment. It also provides affordable housing for those individuals earning between approximately $25,000-$49,000/year, providing homes for those with a mix of incomes and experiences.   

What an exciting opportunity!  Data from across the region and the country tells us these developments work.  While we can have compassion for the fear of change, even for the fear of difference, it is our collective duty to push forward with housing policy that brings us closer to the healthy communities we all seek and reflects the values of inclusivity and opportunity that are true to the Amherst community.

The Network and its many partners stand at the ready to assist in making this development a success for residents and neighbors alike. Please let me know how we can help.
Thanks so much for your leadership and commitment.

Best,
Pamela
Pamela Schwartz, Director
Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness
413-219-5658
https://esternmasshousingfirstorg.stage.site

Network’s FY20 Conference Committee Budget Requests and Advocacy

The FY20 State Budge is now in the hands of the Conference Committee – 3 State Representatives and 3 Senators – as they work out the differences between the House and Senate proposed budgets. Each year the Conference Committee is made up of the Chairs, Vice Chairs, and ranking minority members from the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees. (see contact information below.)

The Network has submitted its requests to the Conference Committee for their consideration. You can see them here.

Now is the time to email the Conference Committee members to urge their support of these priorities. When you do, please copy your own Rep and Senator so they can register your support, which will further their own advocacy from within on Beacon Hill.

The Conference Committee members are:
Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, (617) 722-1114, Michael.Rodrigues@masenate.gov
Senator Cindy F. Friedman, (617) 722-1432, Cindy.Friedman@masenate.gov
Senator Viriato M. deMacedo, (617) 722-1330, Vinny.deMacedo@masenate.gov
Representative Aaron Michlewitz, (617) 722-2990, Aaron.M.Michlewitz@mahouse.gov
Representative Denise C. Garlick, (617) 722-2380, Denise.Garlick@mahouse.gov
Representative Todd M. Smola, (617) 722-2100, Todd.Smola@mahouse.gov

When the Conference Committee finishes its work, it will send its budget to the Governor. In Massachusetts, the Governor has line-item veto power, so the Governor can (and likely will) veto certain parts of the budget without having to veto the entire bill. The legislature can (and likely will) override the Governor’s vetos. And—if all goes like previous years—the Governor will sign the final budget around the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

So we still have several more points along this process to ensure our voices on housing and homelessness priorities is heard. Thanks for being part of it!