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Mass. Senate approves ‘supportive housing’ bill

Johanna Kaiser

Massachusetts lawmakers have approved a new program designed to integrate support services and affordable housing for the elderly, disabled, and homeless families.

The state Senate unanimously approved last week a bill that would establish 1,000 units of so-called supportive housing that would allow the state’s most needy to more easily receive rehabilitative and transitional services from state agencies.

Under the proposal, families, low-income senior citizens, and persons with disabilities would be able to live in the permanent affordable housing units while receiving any needed services on-site from state agencies.

Many people who qualify for affordable housing already receive some other services from the state, such as mental health treatment, job training, addiction treatment, or health services.

Supporters say offering services within the community, the elderly and persons with disabilities would be better equipped to live on their own.

“There is too much bureaucracy,” said Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat and chair of the elder affairs committee, who sponsored the bill. “This will simply make it easier to create a simple application and make this money go further.”

The program would use funding already allocated for housing to build the units over the next three years, and state agencies would provide services under their existing budgets.

Supporters of the proposed system say it could save the state money in the long run because families in need could avoid homelessness or living in shelters, and get back on their feet more quickly by using the integrated services.

“What this program is designed to do is to help those families, particularly who have been in motels and hotels, who have been staying in shelters for a long period of time, and help place them in more permanent housing — into an apartment — and also provide wraparound supportive services,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat and chair of the housing committee.

Eldridge said this program will complement the state’s ongoing efforts to end homeless through a program that aims to provide chronically homeless individuals with stable housing and support services, such as health care and a case manager, so they are better able to land a job and stay out of shelters.

According to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, a family living in a shelter costs the state $40,000 per year, while a family receiving rental assistance and services costs the state $13,500 per year.

There are now approximately 3,640 families living in homeless shelters and budget motels in the state, according to Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, and another 4,041 homeless individuals.

Associated Press