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Overview of the Department of Housing and Community Development

This section describes the makeup and responsibilities of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Table of Contents

Overview

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is part of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. During our audit period, DHCD’s Division of Housing Stabilization (DHS) administered six programs: Building Alternatives to Shelters (HomeBASE), Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, Individual Shelters, Housing and Urban Development Continuum of Care Homelessness Assistance, Emergency Shelter Grants, and Emergency Housing Assistance (EA) for homeless families and pregnant women (the subject of our audit).

The EA program was established under Section 30 of Chapter 23B of the Massachusetts General Laws. Its overall goal, according to DHCD’s internal control plan, is as follows:

Re-engineer the emergency housing response delivery system by 1) re-invigorating prevention strategies, 2) ensuring rapid re-housing by identifying sustainable housing placement for families and individuals, 3) implementing an immediate and comprehensive uniform assessment tool, and 4) offering case management and housing sustainability services upon placement.

On July 1, 2009, the administration of the EA program transferred from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to DHCD. Approximately 80 staff members transferred from DTA to DHCD to work in nine field offices and at DHCD’s headquarters at 100 Cambridge Street in Boston.

DHS’s responsibilities regarding the EA program include preventing homelessness; sheltering homeless individuals; and rapidly rehousing homeless people in stable, permanent housing. DHS administers the EA program through community-based housing providers and nonprofit regional agencies that provide temporary emergency shelter/rehousing services to homeless families and pregnant women that meet the program’s asset and income eligibility criteria.

The EA program is primarily funded through state appropriations, but it also receives federal grants. DHCD received state appropriations in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018 of $155,058,948, $155,533,948, and $155,878,948, respectively.

EA Program

The Commonwealth established the EA program to shelter families and pregnant women who are homeless and to help them find stable, permanent housing. Emergency housing is designed to be a short-term, safe accommodation for those who are homeless or in crisis as they search for more stable accommodations. Families and individuals become homeless for various reasons, including losing a job and being unable to afford rent, fleeing domestic violence, or relocating from an area where a natural disaster (such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico) occurred. Individuals may look for other ways to take care of their families, such as finding shelter with family members or friends or relocating from a state or territory that has experienced a natural disaster. When their support networks can no longer assist them, they are left homeless as they look for housing.

DHCD has nine intake offices across the Commonwealth where homeless coordinators determine whether pregnant women and families qualify for the EA program and then provide qualifying women and families with housing. Homeless families and pregnant women visit these offices and meet with DHCD’s staff. As part of the intake process, DHCD staff members determine whether the woman or family is safe. If they are fleeing domestic violence, the program allows DHCD to presumptively find shelter for them that day; they then have 30 days to gather any information they may need to prove eligibility. In addition to homelessness, program eligibility requirements include proof of Massachusetts residency, relationship to any child/children in the family, pregnancy (if applicable), income levels not exceeding 115% of the federal poverty level,1 and countable assets2 not exceeding $2,500.

Once DHCD has determined that a family is eligible for the EA program, DHCD submits the names of family members aged 10 and older with Social Security numbers to the Sex Offender Registry Board to determine whether they are registered sex offenders.

The pregnant woman or family is offered a choice of either accommodation in a shelter or placement in a DHCD household assistance program, HomeBASE. HomeBASE is intended to place each woman or family in an apartment and provide time-limited financial assistance that may be used for security deposits; rent, including first and last months’ rent that may be due up front; and/or basic furniture for the apartment. The family can also defer assistance from HomeBASE and enter an EA shelter until stable and permanent housing is available.

An eligible family can be placed in one of four types of shelter:

  • Scattered site: Pregnant women and families live in an apartment where they have their own bedroom/s, bathroom, kitchen, and living room. This accommodation can be in a multifamily home or in an apartment building. These buildings may also house families that are not in the EA program.
  • Co-shelter site: Pregnant women and families share an apartment with another woman or family in the EA program. They have their own bedroom/s but share common areas that include a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. These apartments are located in multifamily buildings, which may contain other units that are not part of the EA program.
  • Congregate site: Each pregnant woman or family lives in their own room at the shelter and shares communal spaces such as living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens with the other resident families. Some of these facilities may also include residential and day programs other than the EA program.
  • Hotel: Pregnant women and families live in hotel rooms with a refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven; bathroom; and sleeping area. The Commonwealth has reduced the reliance on hotels and now shelters all pregnant women and families in the EA program in the same hotel.

DHCD tries to place pregnant women and families in their existing communities, but cannot guarantee that it will have available accommodations in those communities at a specific time.

DHCD contracts with independent contractors to provide housing, case, and stabilization services. These contractors are responsible for the physical conditions of the shelter units and for providing safe environments for pregnant women and families to live in. Contractor caseworkers work with pregnant women and families in the EA program to develop rehousing and stabilization plans. The caseworkers aid and monitor pregnant women and families in the EA program in their search for work and housing opportunities. They do this by building relationships with local and regional housing authorities, providing training and educational services that help pregnant women and family members find jobs, and ensuring that pregnant women and families make full use of available housing opportunities.

During our audit period, 24,228 pregnant women and families applied for the EA program. Below is a table outlining how and whether they were placed in the EA and HomeBASE programs.

EA Program Applicant Family Determinations

Program Placement

Fiscal Year 2016

Fiscal Year 2017

Fiscal Year 2018

Women and Families Placed in Shelters

4,286

3,876

3,787

Women and Families Placed in HomeBASE Program

1,323

993

1,108

Women and Families Not Placed

3,314

3,081

2,460

Total Applicant Women and Families

8,923

7,950

7,355

DHCD EA Program Shelter Inspection Process

DHCD has two compliance coordinators (inspectors) responsible for monitoring all 929 shelter addresses in the EA program to ensure that the facilities’ physical conditions meet local codes and are safe for the pregnant women and families that live there. The inspectors are required to perform annual inspections of the shelters in the EA program and respond to complaint calls from pregnant women and families in the EA program about shelter conditions. During the triennial inspections, inspectors use a standardized checklist to ensure that ventilation, lighting, electrical outlets, ceilings, windows (including safety bars), floors, locks, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and in line with local codes. They also check the condition of plumbing and the general cleanliness of kitchens and bathrooms and look for evidence of insects such as cockroaches, as well as rat, mouse, or other rodent infestations. Finally, they ensure that exits are not obstructed and that halls and stairwells are well lit and maintained. Using the inspection checklist, the inspectors write reports that are sent to shelter contractors instructing them to take corrective action on any infractions within a reasonable amount of time. Any immediate safety concerns such as electrical outlet issues must be fixed that day or the family participating in the EA program must be moved. Complaint calls are prioritized based on the severity of the conditions reported.

DHCD EA Program Case Management

Shelter contractor caseworkers provide case management services to the family members in the EA program as defined in the contracts with DHCD. The caseworkers help pregnant women and families in the EA program to locate permanent housing opportunities in their communities. The caseworkers work with the pregnant women and families to develop shelter exit strategies, provide computer access so they can research housing opportunities, and provide transportation to visit potential housing. They also help pregnant women and families to find better-paying jobs or training programs.

DHCD contract specialists perform annual evaluations of all shelter contractors in the EA program to ensure that case management work has been performed by the shelter contractor caseworkers by visiting shelter sites, reviewing case files, and meeting with caseworkers as well as pregnant women and families. The evaluation report issued to the contract provider identifies the areas that comply with the contract and any areas that require improvement. A DHCD supervisor reviews the evaluation report before issuing the report to the shelter contractor for any corrective action.

1.    The federal poverty level is determined by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which annually establishes income guidelines for state governments to use in determining eligibility for social service programs. The income guidelines slide based on family size.

2.    Countable assets include liquid assets (cash on hand, bank accounts, and any cash surrender value on life insurance policies) and other assets, such as vehicles valuated at $15,000 or above or real estate other than a principal residence.

Date published: August 28, 2019
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