There are many reasons families become homeless in the Metrowest area, but the most common root causes are the lack of affordable housing combined with low earnings. While the cost of housing has increased drastically over the past few years, average wages have not kept up.
Family Homelessness in Massachusetts
Across the USA in 2022, 50% of people in families with children experiencing sheltered homelessness were in four states: New York, California, Massachusetts, and Washington.
From 2007 to 2022, the number of sheltered families with children in Massachusetts increased by 46%. While rates of family homelessness have been decreasing in recent years, they are still well above pre-2007 rates.
On a single night in January 2022, 15,507 individuals in Massachusetts were experiencing homelessness and 61% of these people were part of a family with children. However, these numbers only represent families in shelters or that were found in unsheltered locations. It does not include the scores of families without homes that are "doubled up" with friends or family, sleeping on couches and floors.
Why is this happening? The high cost of housing combined with low wages.
Skyrocketing Housing Costs
The 2023 Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts is $1,893, the second-highest in the nation behind Hawaii. And FMR in the Boston area is $2,635 a month. To afford this rent while still being able to pay other key expenses (i.e., to spend no more than 30% of income on housing), a household must make at least $105,400 a year or $50.67/hr.
Earnings have increased but are still too low. In January 2023, the minimum wage in Massachusetts increased to $15 an hour, impacting approximately 25% of our MA workforce. However, this 5.3% increase was overshadowed by the 7.1% national rate of inflation in 2022.
A full-time minimum wage worker will earn $31,200, pre-tax. At this rate, you would have to work 135 hours per week to afford the Boston FMR: more than three full-time jobs. The maximum amount a full-time minimum wage worker can pay in rent and still be able to afford other essential bills is $780 a month.
$37.97 is the 2023 MA "state housing wage"—the minimum hourly wage needed to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in MA (but not the Boston area).
This is the 3rd highest state housing wage in the United States.
Lack of Affordable Housing Options
In 2022, Massachusetts was the 11th lowest in the nation for housing production, resulting in a shortage, which is not only driving up housing pricing but also decreasing housing access. In 2019, Massachusetts underproduced housing stock by 108,000 units—a number that has doubled since 2012.
Students and Homelessness
During the 2020-2021 academic year, 19,954 students experienced homelessness in public schools across Massachusetts. 78% percent of students identified as homeless during the 2019-2020 school year were doubled-up with others, while 11% stayed at shelters, 7% stayed at hotels or motels, and 4% stayed in unsheltered situations.
People seeking further education to improve their income and stabilize their housing have seen a 175% increase in tuition at public institutions of higher education over the past 20 years. To access this opportunity, most individuals must take out student loans. In 2022, 41% of parents served by FPM had completed college credits, but only 42% of those individuals had earned their degree. Many of these families were burdened with student debt without the financial benefit of a degree.
Who Does Family Promise Metrowest Serve?
We are one of the first referrals Metrowest families are given when denied emergency state shelter. We serve families that:
- Are legal Massachusetts residents
- Have at least one child under the age of 18 living with them
- Are without a permanent home or are facing eviction or shelter entry due to pending loss of housing
To understand who our families are, knowing why they are denied state assistance is important. The 2023 eligibility criteria for emergency state shelter are as follows:
State-Accepted Reasons for Homelessness:
- Were subject to a no-fault fire, flood, natural disaster, condemnation, foreclosure, or a no-fault eviction (due to landlord sale of property, for example).
- Fleeing domestic violence (current or within past 12 months).
- There is a substantial health or safety risk to the family, often due to living in a situation not meant for human habitation, such as in a car).
- Have "no feasible housing alternative" which means you must not have “any currently available living situation including temporary housing with relatives, friends or charitable organizations.”
Other Eligibility Criteria for State Assistance:
- Be a resident of Massachusetts
- Have children under the age of 21 or be pregnant.
- Fall below the gross income standards (115% of federal poverty level)
|Family Size||Monthly income eligibility standard||Annual Income|
Typical reasons families are denied state shelter:
- "Over-income " (even though they are not earning enough to afford housing)
- Evicted due to nonpayment of rent as a result of an increase in childcare costs or an inability to pay rent that increased unexpectedly, neither of which are considered a "no-fault eviction."
- Parent quit a job or reduced work hours in the 3 months prior to application (even though this is often due to a lack of childcare or reliable transportation)
Sources: MA Coalition for the Homeless; National Low Income Housing Coalition; National Center for Homeless Education; U.S. Census Bureau; MA Dept. of Housing and Community Development; US Dept. of HUD; Rentdata.org; Up for Growth; U.S News; CEPR.net.