Massachusetts Official Says Progress Is Being Made In Moving Homeless Families From Motels

Apr 29, 2013

There has been a big drop in the number of homeless families staying in motels at taxpayer expense in Massachusetts.  The state’s top housing official is confident a goal can be met to completely end the controversial practice.

Credit WAMC

   The number of homeless families sheltered in motel rooms across the state has fallen by 30 percent in the last year, with an even larger 51 percent reduction in western Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development, Aaron Gornstein says the numbers give him confidence that the state can eliminate the use of motels as emergency homeless shelters by June 30, 2014.

   Statewide there are 1250 families being sheltered in motel rooms, down from 1800 last December. There were 513 homeless families in motels in western Massachusetts  last July and that number has now dropped to 255.

Two motels, one in Holyoke and one in West Springfield  are no  longer being used as shelters. The 160 families that had been staying there are now in permanent housing, according to Gornstein.

   The state has for decades put homeless families up in motel rooms when emergency shelters are at capacity.  The number skyrocketed during the recession and the foreclosure crisis.  State officials say the practice is not cost effective for the taxpayers nor in the best interests of the homeless families.  The state pays an average of $3,000 a month for a family to stay in a motel room.

   Last July, as the urging of the state legislature, the Patrick administration tightened requirements for homeless families to gain access to emergency shelter, but Gornstein  denied this has had a significant impact on the  motel use.

   At a news conference Monday in Holyoke, Gornstein urged the state legislature to support continued funding for homelessness prevention programs in next year’s state budget.

   Republican State Senator Michael Knapik of Westfield praised what he called a “ quick and compassionate” approach by the Patrick administration to removing homeless families from motels.

   Massachusetts spent about $300 million last year on family homelessness and housing support programs. About a third of the total was for emergency assistance.

   Undersecretary for Housing Gornstein said the state is committed to encouraging the construction of more affordable housing.   He highlighted a $15 million project in Easthampton that is renovating a century old textile mill into affordable housing for 50 families.   Easthampton Mayor Michael Tautznik said turning old industrial buildings into housing will help revitalize the downtown.

   Gornstein awarded Easthampton a $10,000 grant to work on community development plans.