Local Housing Programs: History of the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund

In 1999 after rent control was change to reflect the need of low to moderate income people; a group of Cambridge business leaders created a program to provide subsidies and affordable rental housing within the city of 100,000 people. The Cambridge Community of Realtors, Cambridge Trust Company, East Cambridge Savings Bank, and Cambridge Savings Bank worked in conjunction with the mayor and city council to form the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund (CHAF). Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also joined in to support the combined efforts of these local banks, the mayor and city council.
Since it was founded in 1999, CHAF has raised 1.5 million dollars. This rental subsidy program has helped 1,400 families transition into affordable housing. The total client population served by CHAF represents approximately 5,000 people or 20 percent of the city’s residents.
Currently, CHAF works with two agency partners, the Cambridge Office of Homestart and the Central Square-based Cambridge Multi Service Center (CMSC). Homestart provides housing searches for homeless couples and families, and makes client referrals to matching people with housing subsidies. They also assist clients in locating housing in the open commercial market. CMSC also provides housing searches and support services to the homeless and near homeless single people, including retires, widowers and working people. CMSC services include information and referrals to housing programs, access to telephone and voice mail, transportation referrals and assisting in landlord negotiations.
The application process for individuals, couples, and families begins with people registering. People need to register at the appropriate agency based on household status. People come in, fill out all the paperwork, and then meet with agency staff. Agency staff guides all clients, based on family size and income level, to the appropriate housing programs.
Clients qualify for the CHAF program based on three criteria. The first criteria requires that all interested people must register and get there paperwork approved. The second, all clients must be Cambridge residents. The third criteria stipulates that all people have to be or near homeless, meaning that they cannot afford the startup costs such as a security deposit and first month’s rent.
David Pap of chair of the CHAF planning committee stated that they do not do any grant funding at all. Pap pointed out that organization sponsors a fundraiser in the fall that raises the funds to pay for the rental subsidiary program for the whole year. He elaborated that they have a major Cambridge and Boston group of contributors that make a yearly donation. He said that the 2010 fundraiser is scheduled at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge on October 16, 2010.
I recently spoke David Pap, chairman of the planning committee and a founding member about the program, about how the program started and its history, who the agency partners are, how the fundraiser works and how the money is spent.

RS How did CHAF start?
DP: “In the late 1990‘s the Cambridge Community of Realtors went to the city administration with a proposal to create a down-payment affordable housing program. The city responded that they have a program that helps first time low to moderate income families to get a subsidized second mortgage, which reduces the total housing costs called the Second Soft loan program. The realtors group countered with a subsidized program that guarantees the start up cost for affordable rental housing for homeless or near homeless people.”

RS: Why does CHAF work with Homestart and the CMSC?
DP: “Originally CHAF worked with three agency partners. The three initial partners included the Cambridge Housing Authority, CASCAP, and CMSC. This agency collaboration changed in 2001 when the contracts expired. After 2001 Homestart joined CMSC as the two current agency partners.”

RS: How does the fundraiser work?
DP: “We sponsor a yearly fundraiser. The 2010 fundraiser this year occurs in October. All of business contributors make a donation ranging from $750 to $15,000. Our donors include a leadership circle consisting of the Cambridge Trust Company, the Cambridge Saving Bank and Caldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Cares. We also have a series of business organizations that are classified as benefactors, patrons, donors and friends of the organization. These businesses support CHAF by making a fundraising donation. This year’s event consists of a three part evening social event. Part one is a desert sampling create by local chefs, catering companies and retail food companies. Part two is a port wine test. Part three is a night of ballroom dancing.”

RS: Who can come to the CHAF fundraiser?
DP: “ Our corporate partners send their representatives to the Cambridge fundraiser. The general public can purchase tickets at our web site and can come and also support our work.”

RS: How does the fund work?
DP: An approval committee is organized consisting of agency staff from both Homestart and the CMSC. This joint committee dispenses grants based on client and expected housing retention. This program committee approves money to be allocated based on the three criteria agreed by the Cambridge Community of Realtors that have been implemented by the two agencies partners.

Robert Sondak is a Spare Change vendor and writer. Robert has a Bachelor degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). Robert also minored in planning and advocacy.



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