Chelsea has one of the highest rates of apartment renters in the state, at just over 70 percent of the city’s total housing stock, and with that comes the pressure on renters presented by rising rents, gentrification, and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The need for housing assistance for renters and homeowners in the Greater Boston area, and Chelsea specifically, is highlighted in the latest annual report on the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. According to the homelessness prevention program funded by the Department of Housing and Community Development, the number of Chelsea residents receiving assistance from the program almost doubled from Fiscal Year 2021 to FY22.
In Chelsea, 1,472 households received more than $15.2 million in emergency housing assistance, compared to the 833 Chelsea households that received $5.9 million in emergency rental assistance in FY21.
Overall, RAFT provided assistance for 18,317 families totalling more than $162 million in FY22, compared to 10,251 households receiving $63 million in FY21.
Metro Housing/Boston has documented the effectiveness of RAFT since 2013, and this year’s report continues the examination of the impact of the pandemic through the infusion of state and federal funds, the expansion of eligibility to access those funds, the streamlining of the application process, and quicker release of dollars.
These changes resulted in a complete shift in Metro Housing’s housing payment assistance programs, requiring greater flexibility and increased staff capacity, according to the latest report. In addition, partnerships with community-based organizations provided another valuable way to assist more families in Metro Housing’s region in FY22.
Metro Boston found that partnerships with the Action for Boston Community Development, Asian Community Development Corporation, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, The Neighborhood Developers (TND)/CONNECT, WATCH, and Vietnamese American Initiative for Development (VietAID) provided not only venues for getting the word out about available assistance, but also provided places for people to complete applications and get assistance with language barrier issues.
“The pandemic hit TND’s communities of Chelsea and Revere hard,” says Rafael Mares, Executive Director of TND. “Our close, pre-existing partnership with Metro Housing became the bedrock of our response. With their support, our team took on the responsibility to assist tenants in filling out rental assistance applications, Metro Housing staff trained our team, and jointly we developed systems for working together.”
Alex Train, Chelsea’s Director of Housing and Community Development, said the rental and housing assistance is something that is desperately needed, given that over half of tenants in Chelsea are housing cost burdened.
“In partnership with The Neighborhood Developers, Metro Housing Boston, the Collaborative, the city has provided significant funding to create a local model with our partners to boost the accessibility of rental assistance for residents of Chelsea, particularly vulnerable residents who face a lot of barriers to accessing these systems,” said Train. “Overall, that type of local partnership is really key for both this particular program but other avenues of rental and housing assistance given all the barriers that folks, specifically residents of Chelsea, face.”
Train said that the need that is highlighted in the report, as well as the high percentage of residents who are housing-cost burdened, signifies the immense importance of long-term rental assistance and economic mobility investment.
Train said that assistance could come “through the Massachusetts rental voucher program, which we are advocating for a sizeable increase in, as well as a set aside of rental assistance for residents of environmental justice communities, or other local initiatives that are a result of the sorts of partnerships that center the empowerment of their long term upward mobility as opposed to emergency, one-time solutions.”
In the coming months, Train said the city will be unveiling some new initiatives in conjunction with local partners and local and state leaders to address longer-term housing assistance and economic mobility.
Some of the key findings from the RAFT report show that the average housing assistance benefit increased from $6,167 in FY21 to $8,870 in FY22, while mortgage assistance in FY22 totaled $1.8 million, a decrease from the $2.5 in FY21. Rental arrears remained the largest category for assistance. In FY22, $80 million was awarded for arrears, the largest amount ever.
The total rental stipend assistance increased to 42 percent of all EHPA assistance, totaling more than $67 million. In FY21, it represented only 22 percent of assistance.
The total number of Black/African American households helped in FY22 jumped to almost 8,000, a seven-fold increase over FY20. In FY22, 1,121 Asian households, or 6% of the total – received assistance. In FY20, 21 Asian households, or 1% of the total – were assisted. The number of Hispanic/Latino households receiving assistance continues to see a sharp increase. In FY22, 6,548 households received assistance, compared to 3,289 in FY21 and 554 in FY20.
“COVID-19 has impacted all of us in so many ways, but none as severe as families with low incomes not being able to pay your rent or mortgage while facing eviction or foreclosure,” said Chris Norris, Executive Director of Metro Housing|Boston. “RAFT has been a lifeline for thousands of households over the years, and its importance during the pandemic cannot be overstated. However, until more permanent, viable solutions are identified and implemented, a safety net for those most at risk of homelessness needs to be dependably and heavily funded.” Norris said the data in the report shows the need for a more sustainable solution, from additional rental assistance vouchers and the production of below-market-rate housing to the critical shortage of affordable housing in the Metro Boston area