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Promising Practices: Housing Families, Inc./Malden Housing Authority
Solutions Brief | March 8, 2011
Files: PDF | 210 KB | 2 pages
Since July 2008, Housing Families Inc. (HFI), a nonprofit housing and social services provider, has partnered with the Malden (Massachusetts) Housing Authority (MHA) to prevent evictions and provide tailored services for at-risk families residing in subsidized housing. To date, all of the families who participated in the program have remained housed.
The initiative started as a pilot between HFI and MHA utilizing funding that an anonymous donor provided to prevent evictions from public housing. Successful completion of the pilot resulted in new funding being made available to continue the program, and indeed to expand it to include Section 8 tenants. Success also attracted the involvement of another housing authority in Everett, Massachusetts (EHA).
As the current economic downturn began, HFI began observe that an increasing number of families were at risk of homelessness. Likewise, MHA found that tenants who were normally financially stable were struggling to make regular, timely rental payments, often due to a job loss or other economic hurdle. Both groups concluded that such families could avoid homelessness with limited financial and/or case management assistance at the onset of their problems. The timing of assistance was critical: in Massachusetts, once a family is evicted from subsidized housing it is not eligible for state-funded shelter for three years and faces extreme difficulty in accessing subsidized housing in the future.
In 2008, HFI started a pilot project with eight families at risk of eviction who were referred to it by MHA. The partnership was not without challenges, but the two organizations succeeded through perseverance and a mutual willingness to compromise in order to reach a common goal of reducing evictions and promoting housing stability. By the time the project ended its pilot status, HFI and the MHA had found funding to continue the effort and were looking for new ways to work together.
Families are eligible for the program if they are behind on their rent and are at risk of being evicted (single person households are also eligible). Eligible tenants can directly request assistance from the program, or be referred by MHA or by HFI staff. MHA and HFI outreach to potential clients in several ways:
Once identified, clients are referred to HFI for assistance.
The HFI staff meets weekly to review new cases, assess how sustainable the tenancy would be with eviction prevention assistance, and determine the minimum amount of assistance required to stabilize a family. Afterward, a case manager may have to go back to the family for more information.
Families can receive assistance from HFI in several forms.
If HFI determines that a family would benefit from financial assistance, the agency and housing authority generally agree to pay a portion of the arrearage every month for several months, with the tenant also paying a portion. This encourages the family to demonstrate their ability to keep up their financial obligations in a timely manner. HFI has found that this practice of making families stakeholders helps keep clients invested in a lasting solution.
On average, families receive approximately $1,000 in financial assistance. Typically, assistance is used to repay rental arrears but has also been used to assist with security deposits, utility payments, and moving expenses for those families that need to seek another unit.
HFI had an advantage in partnering with MHA as trust had already been developed through a previous joint effort. All stakeholders interviewed agreed, however, that this type of partnership can be replicated as long as parties enter discussions with open minds and flexibility. Ground rules should also be established early in the process. It is also important to agree on a set of realistic outcomes for the partnership. In this case, HFI and MHA agreed that while every family seeking assistance would be served by the project, it was possible that they might not succeed in saving the tenancy of every family. This common understanding was absolutely critical for trust to develop. Moreover, the partners noted that such common understanding should permeate every layer of an organization, from executive staff to line staff. For a program to be fully successful, organizations need all members of their staff to be invested in the goals and parameters of the program. Staff must understand and genuinely respect the mission and culture of each other’s organization and agree to work together to achieve mutually beneficial solutions. A strong partnership is critical to achieving strong program outcomes.