Low-income individuals and families can get affordable housing options through the state of Massachusetts Section 8 Housing Voucher program — under this housing assistance program the Voucher holders are supposed to pay 30 % of their income for the rent and the rest of the rent is paid by the USHUD. At the state level, it’s run by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which has eight regional offices throughout the state, as well as over 100 local public housing authority (PHA) offices throughout the state.
The BHA is suggesting increasing housing choices for families throughout Greater Boston at the same time avoiding artificially inflating market rents in Boston for non-voucher holders by adopting Small Area Fair Market Rents for the Voucher Program.
The Boston Housing Authority (BHA) has forged a new approach to embark upon the issue of homelessness. The officials think that this could address the problem of saturation of 10,000 families in Boston using housing choice vouchers. According to BHA Chief, the aim is to extend choices to poor families about where to live and raise their kids.
The Boston Housing Authority like other housing authorities have been limited by the HUD to one payment standard (Fair Market Rent) for each metropolitan area means the voucher holders in any locality receive the same subsidy. However under new HUD regulations, BHA can now adjust FMR’s for each zip code where they assist families, therefore setting a rent structure in much more specific geographic areas. In short, the use of SAFMRs will allow for extended housing options in many communities inaccessible to households which will also avoid the negative impact of artificial inflation of rents in others.
Under this Small Area Fair Market Rents, the BHA plans to pay rent based on the standard rent in a given ZIP code. Which means that under the policy the subsidy will not change in certain areas while fluctuate considerably in certain other regions.
As per Chief of BHA, the existing policy was not letting the people live where they wanted to live and causing poverty in the region. Due to the fact that there were very few neighborhoods where the market rates were similar or close to voucher rents that result in concentration in those areas. The same reason also serves to inflate the rent cost and the new policy is designed to change this trend. But the Small Area Fair Market Rents policy will need HUD approval before being getting being implemented.
The Boston Housing Authority receives approximately 10,000 Section 8 applications each year, so there is a long waiting list. Currently, the BHA implements choice vouchers worth a quarter of a billion dollar and till the start of May 2019, the portfolio of vouchers reached to 13,500.
When the additional 1000 vouchers were released the Mayer of Boston said in April 2019, “We will continue working together to create these homes for our residents and be a city where every single person matters and every single person is cared for.”
The Administrator of BHA said that the new policy will not only help homeless residents and families find permanent affordable housing in the area of their choice, but it will also offer them the permanence they need to pursue fresh opportunities to better their lives.
At present the Boston Housing Authority offers three Leased Housing programs:
Tenant-Based Voucher Program
This Program allows low-income families to live in privately owned homes of their choice by subsidizing a portion of their rent. This gives families the liberty to choose apartments at an affordable cost to them. Voucher holders are responsible for finding an apartment that accepts Housing Choice vouchers in the private market.
Currently, thousands of families have issued “funding permits,” commonly called vouchers, to fund a portion of the apartment’s rent. BHA is not accepting new applications for the Tenant-Based Program and the waiting list is closed until further notice.
Project-Based Voucher Program
This Program allows eligible families to live in specific properties within Boston with subsidized rents. Applicants must apply for specific communities and will then be placed on that community’s waiting list.
BHA is presently issuing only new Tenant-Based vouchers under very specific circumstances, including to veterans through HUD’s Veterans’ VASH voucher program and to voucher holders who have been living in project-based programs for at least one year.
Moderate Rehabilitation Program
This Program allows deserving households to live in Moderate Rehabilitation specific communities with subsidized rents. Applicants must apply for specific communities, and will then be placed on that community’s waiting list.
BHA believes that the goal with this policy change is 1) to stop dislocation of families with or without vouchers and 2) to notably expand neighborhood choices for low-income families using a voucher.
Executing SAFMRs will achieve these goals and will verify Boston’s housing policy leadership at the state and national level. It represents the right move at this point in time to take full advantage of housing access and equity for our poor residents.
It is also envisioned that other organizations administering Housing Choice Vouchers other regions will follow BHA’s successful experience. Failing to make this change, they run the risk of increasing displacement in some neighborhoods in and around Boston.
Besides its voucher residents and landlords, the BHA also try to find suggestions and guidance from its other partners where a lower payment standard may be satisfactory to continue to allow the right to use apartments for a Housing Choice Voucher family.
The public comment period will end on June 24, 2019. A public hearing will be held at the Copley Square Branch of the Boston Public Library, Commonwealth Salon, on June 11 at 6:00 pm. Comments may be submitted by mail or email to David Gleich, Chief of Leased Housing Programs, Boston Housing Authority, 52 Chauncy Street, Boston MA, 02111.
Outside of Boston, BHA is also looking for guidance through the public comment period to promote as much uniformity as possible.