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Pathways to Stable Homes: Promoting Caregiver and Child Health Through Housing Stability

Stable homes are vital for good health. Research demonstrates children’s health improves when their families are able to live in homes they can afford without falling behind on rent, moving frequently, or experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, Massachusetts has a shortage of affordable
rental homes across the state. For every 100 families with extremely low incomes* in the Commonwealth, there are only 46 available units of housing they would be able to afford without spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent, a condition known as “rent burden”.

In search of a way to complement efforts to build more affordable homes in Massachusetts and ensure the state’s working families can avoid health damaging toxic trade-offs between rent and other basic necessities, Children’s HealthWatch developed a strategy named “Pathways to Stable Homes”. This strategy emerged and evolved out of feedback and information from multiple sources, including a listening tour, simulation modeling, and a healthcare cost analysis.

Feedback received from diverse stakeholders aligned with research evidence indicating that only by combining multiple policy solutions will Massachusetts be able to increase the effectiveness of its efforts to ensure families have enough resources to afford housing without forgoing other basic needs. Examining combinations of policies through economic simulation, Children’s HealthWatch found the synergistic combination of the following three policies to be both feasible and effective:

  1.  Ensuring access to childcare subsidy and reducing childcare subsidy co payments,
  2.  Increasing the state match to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and
  3. Providing eviction-prevention assistance to families with rental arrearages.

Specifically, this would be an innovative policy strategy that combines 1) capping childcare subsidy co-payments at the US Department of Health and Human Services’ benchmark of 7 percent of income 2) increasing the state EITC to 50 percent of the federal credit for all eligible households, and 3) enhancing eviction-prevention benefits for families unable to close the gap or experiencing economic shocks placing them at imminent risk of eviction. These policies would enhance the likelihood of working families having enough money to afford rent by closing the gap between earnings (income + EITC) and major expenses (childcare + rent), and provide a necessary buffer against eviction and its harmful costs to families, landlords, communities, and state and local governments. This innovative combination of complementary policies would help increase families’ ability to afford rent and other basic needs while increasing labor force participation and reducing evictions and their multiple layers of harmful costs. The policy recommendations that would enable these outcomes include the following:

  1. Childcare Assistance
    Ensure universal access to affordable childcare and limit co-payment fees for childcare subsidies to no more than 7 percent of families’ income for families with incomes above 100 percent of FPL to reflect the Department of Health and Human Services recommendation of what an affordable childcare subsidy co-payment is. For families with incomes below 100 percent FPL, eliminate co-payment fees for childcare subsidies.
  2. Increased EITC
    Increase the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) match to 50 percent of the federal credit to further help families afford a stable home and other necessities.
  3. Eviction Prevention
    Expand access to the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program to include a state-funded rental arrearage program for families before they enter the eviction process to protect them from unforeseen circumstances, which may threaten their ability to maintain stable homes and potentially cause homelessness.

This research was funded by the Boston Foundation, The Paul & Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley and One Family, Inc.