BOSTON, Mass.—On February 24, Homes for Families, a Boston-based housing advocacy group, and its supporters again filled the grand stairway of the State House with cries of “Housing” during its ninth annual Cookie Day event.
The event brought attention to cuts in state housing funds and honored local legislators who have worked to help homeless families in Massachusetts. Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Brighton), the chairs of the Joint Committee on Housing, sponsored the event.
“The problem persists—our affordable housing crisis has led to this family homelessness crisis,” said Diane Sullivan, Homes for Families’ policy director, during the event, “and the steps that we have taken as a state have yet to successfully address the growing number of families in need.”
Homes for Families is asking the legislature to restore $30 million in cuts to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). According to Sullivan, MRVP was once funded at $120 million dollars but was cut drastically during the 1990s. The program is currently funded at $57.5 million.
Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes for Families, pointed out that it would require $190 million to reach MRVP’s former funding, adjusted for inflation. “Even $120 million is a fraction of what it should be, since the gap between housing and wages has continued to expand, Hayes explained. “Even $120 million is not enough, but it’s a step closer to getting there.”
According to Hayes, the state’s HomeBASE homelessness prevention program ended its rental assistance, phasing it out a year earlier than originally planned, with a savings of $30 million. “We understand that $30 million is a big ask, but we have a target, the HomeBASE line item—we’re not asking for $30 million from anywhere. We have 4,500 families in the state’s homelessness system and we’re not going to get out of this crisis unless we have some housing to get the system moving.”
It was Allison Fannon’s third Cookie Day. When she attended in 2011, she was living in a shelter with her young daughter. Thanks to Homes for Families, they now live in an apartment in Dorchester. She is also on the organization’s board of directors and has frequent speaking engagements and shelter visits.
“Homes for Families was really helpful with staying positive [when I was living in a shelter], and they showed me a light at the end of the tunnel,” Fannon said. “They are a really inspirational and hardworking group. Sometimes you want to give up when you’re in a shelter, and they keep you positive by meeting every month. Their doors are always open, they’re always there to talk—they’re a support system.”
Ciara Prescott spoke of being homeless as a child and how difficult it was for her to get emergency shelter as the young single mother of an infant. “I was a new mom, and I was going to have to learn how to be a parent in a motel on the side of a highway next to a gas station,” she said.
Prescott described her determination to provide a home for her child. “ It doesn’t surprise me that after years of growing up in the [shelter] system, having nothing at all, that I still have nothing. But I’m going to try my best to change that so my baby never has to go through what I went through,” she explained.
Stephan M. Brewer (D–Barre), chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means Committee, was honored with this year’s Homes for Families’ Big Cookie Award—a giant, house-shaped cookie.
Brewer took the podium and invited “Sarah the Lobbyist”—a preschool-aged girl who attended the event with her family, who are seeking housing—up to the podium with him. He called Sarah “the reason we do all of this.”
“Families should not be living in motels,” Brewer said. “Families should not be living in cars.”
“Who among us would deny Sarah a safe, quality bed to sleep in at night, and a yard to play in?” Brewer asked. “We have a moral responsibility, my friends, to do the right thing for our fellow citizens.”
According to Sullivan, in 2013 Brewer was “the leader on the Senate side in ensuring that there was a restoration of $15.5 million in funding, which was a huge success, and we were able to keep 500 families from re-entering shelters. These were 500 families who had moved out of shelters with short-term subsidies, and we were able to shore up housing for them.”
We need this progression to continue,” Sullivan continued, “and we need to recognize that housing is simply unaffordable for so many working families in Massachusetts.”