Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Laura Reckford

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Rick Presbrey's Editorial: A 10-Year Plan to Reduce Homelessness

Posted by Laura Reckford on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 @ 08:32 AM

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For 30 years, I have been in favor of rental assistance being time-limited.

That was a based on my belief that in the long view—back when Reagan was president—that continued increases in funding were not sustainable.

I think that as each family is deemed eligible for assistance in the state Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and the federal Section 8 programs they should have a choice: a large monthly subsidy for a short time, say three years, a medium rental subsidy each month for up to 10 years, or a smaller amount each month for up to 20 years.

In this way participants would know what to expect and could plan for it. As assistance for existing participants expires, funds would be available to help those with current needs and crises. I know it sounds generous, and it is, but it isn’t as generous as the system we have now.

To give some background to how I reached this conclusion, you need only look at the present state of housing affairs in the commonwealth.

It should come as no surprise that with high rental housing costs, relatively high unemployment particularly among lower income people, and low paying jobs, thousands of families can’t afford to pay market rent.

In tight economic times, no new comprehensive publicly funded initiative to solve this problem can be realistically expected.

Instead, in Boston and Washington various amounts of money have been appropriated for a variety of piecemeal and often complicated solutions designed to keep families without housing or at risk of losing housing safe.

These programs, which include HomeBASE (Building Alternatives to Shelter) and now RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition), just haven’t worked or at least haven’t been able to keep up with the persistent demand.

Massachusetts is a "right to shelter" state and therefore, no one can be denied the right to a place to sleep each night. One of the high priority goals of the Patrick administration has been to eliminate the use of motels, paid for by the commonwealth, to shelter homeless families. Through no lack of effort this goal has not been reached to date. There are now more than 2,000 homeless households in motels being paid by the commonwealth and another 2,000 more families in state-funded shelters.

The added crisis in Massachusetts since July is that families have begun "timing out" on two years of rental assistance under the HomeBASE program with no further rental assistance being offered.

Two years looked pretty good in the beginning but unless major changes took place within the two years to either the economy, availability of good paying jobs, or the family itself, the cycle of homelessness for many would just begin again in the 25

th month.

In anticipation of families "timing-out" of the program, the HomeBASE program offers families up to $4,000 to help make the transition to independence, and the family can still go into a state-funded shelter.

When a similar timing out occurred in New York a couple of years ago, it showed that many did not immediately ask for further ongoing help after their rental assistance ran out.

Massachusetts, so far, is taking a wait and see attitude to see how people fare here.

Dire predictions of what would happen to families losing this assistance have so far not come true, with about 20% of the households returning to shelter at the expiration of their two years of state assistance in paying the rent. But in time many more may find the need to seek further help.

The state’s plan now is to issue 500 "new" Mass Rental Housing Vouchers (MRVP) to offer help to those with the greatest need.

Hopefully that won’t send the wrong message and unduly raise expectations. That message, in the minds of those in need, may be that if you tough it out, more subsidies are on the way.

That could cause many to seek access to a system that does not have the funds to help everyone in need. The problem

with traditional state and federal rental assistance is that as long as a tenant remains income-eligible they can continue receiving monthly assistance paying the rent for the rest of their lives.

Rental assistance does resolve their housing woes once and for all and the findings from years of experience have been that it benefits families in several key ways that improve families’ health and well being.

Once a household begins receiving monthly rental assistance, it goes on forever as long as the voucher holder remains income-eligible, making the aid a disincentive for some, perhaps many, to increase their income to the point that they become ineligible for continued assistance.

People become dependent on the assistance and fear giving it up.

Several steps have been taken over the years to reduce the sense of dependence, such as reserving or holding your subsidy for a period of time after your income makes you ineligible in case you lose your job and need assistance again. But still, few willingly give up the financial help each year.

One result is that if each year new families need help, the public funding of these programs must continue to increase. Since that isn’t happening, those now in need do not get the help they need. One result is that we have 4,000 households in Massachusetts crowded into shelters and motels being paid for out of the state budget.

There are lots of efforts to try to solve the problem but there is no real master plan that legislators, advocates and state officials can agree on.

I think it is a mistake now to issue new "lifetime" MRVP vouchers to those timing out of HomeBASE because it enables a lifetime of dependency, because it feeds the expectation to those entering the system now that a lifetime of help may be available if they show a great enough need and hang on long enough, and because the lifetime subsidy prevents others in need from getting any meaningful financial help for years into the future.

At the present time the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Section 8 program, managed by regional non-profits like Housing Assistance Corporation, have about 20,000 families receiving monthly subsidies with approximately 100,000 households statewide on waiting lists for help that most will never get.

To be clear, people come in, they apply for something they need, and they leave hoping help will come. And it never will for most of them. Help is not on the way.

We need a fresh approach. Let’s try the following:

1) End lifetime rental subsidies at both the federal and state levels.

2) Create a simple homeless prevention program which provides one-time limited financial help to households with a crisis to keep them from becoming homeless in the first place. Income eligibility needs to be higher than past efforts in order to be able to effectively intervene before it is too late to avoid the crisis.

3) Create a standardized curriculum and fund teachers in state-funded shelters with an emphasis on using the resident time productively in learning family life skills, academic skills and job-readiness skills to help people move towards educational and vocational achievement.

4) Fund case managers for every 30 households who are in their first year of receiving rental assistance and a case manager for every 250 after one year in order to monitor and aid their progress towards independence.

5 ) Increase the minimum wage substantially in Massachusetts so that those qualifying for entry-level positions have some hope of being able to support themselves.

If people can’t live on what they earn our system isn’t working.

The patchwork of help we now provide isn’t working either.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, housing assistance corporation, Rick Presbrey

Basket Party An Annual Tradition To Help Cape Cod Families in Need

Posted by Laura Reckford on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 @ 05:00 AM


At the party Michael Princi throws every year to help homeless families, the host told a favorite story about how a small gesture can help someone in need.

He described a party he gave with his son, Patrick Princi, at HAC's NOAH Shelter one Christmas. They brought a karaoke machine to the shelter and everyone took a turn, including Michael.

With much coaxing, one homeless woman took her turn at the microphone and Michael said the entire group was amazed at her singing prowess. "It was like 'American Idol,'" he said. "She had perfect pitch."

Afterwards, the woman, who had been a foster child with no family of her own, thanked Michael Princi, telling him it was the best Christams she had ever had. Her reaction captures the magic of giving, he said.

Michael Princi has held a special party for 24 years as a way to collect baskets of Christmas presents for families in Housing Assistance Corporation's shelters. He asks friends to contribute and he said one friend thanked him for letting her buy for a family. "That's what it's about," he said. "Anonymous giving. Knowing you are helping other people who wouldn't have a Christmas."

HAC's Project Prevention Director Dolores Barbati-Poore said of the event, "It's wonderful. It's family to family."

HAC CEO Rick Presbrey paid tribute to Dolores, saying "She has done more to help homeless families in her career than anyone else on Cape Cod. She does it year after year. It takes its toll but she keeps on doing it." He added, "Working with people in need is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep doing it and trust that good things will happen."

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless

Affordable Rental Housing in High Demand on Cape Cod

Posted by Laura Reckford on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

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The need for affordable rental apartments on Cape Cod was on full display earlier this fall during a lottery for 12 affordable apartments.

A total of 252 people applied ot the lottery in hopes of getting one of the 12 rental units on Stage Coach Road in Cneterville. When the drawing of numbers began, there were more than three dozen people in Barnstable Town Hall watchng the process. There were mothers with babies, a homeless man who arrived with a backpack containing his possessions, parents with teenagers, and senior citizens, all hoping their number would be chosen early in the lottery drawing.

Housing Assistance Corporation ran the lottery on behalf of the Barnstable Housing Authority. Karen Davis, program coordinator in the Consumer Education Department of HAC, said the large number of people applying for the units served to demonstrate the need.

"Just in case you need ammunition about needing affordable housing on the Cape," she said.

Sandra Perry, executive director of Barnstable Housing Authority, said, "We're fortunate in the Town of Banrstable that the town council supports affordable housing."

The lottery numbers were divided into two sub-categories: Barnstable residents and people who are homeless. Of the 252 lottery applications, there were 30 families who identified themselves as homeless and 160 families who indicated they were from the Town of Barnstable.

One man in the audience said he had not received his letter from the housing authority giving his number in the lottery because he was homeless. "They don't accept mail at the shelter," he said.

Luana Champagne attended the lottery with her four-year-old son. Ms. Champagne, who grew up in Brazil, has lived on Cape Cod for 12 years and graduated from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School. She works as a certified nursing assistant. She said she and her son are homeless and living in a hotel in New Bedford. She said she hopes they are chosen in the lottery. "I want to be able to give my kid a roof over his head, so we can be comfortable and so we don't have to worry about where we will live next."

Ruth Rivero said she lives in a homeless shelter in New Bedford but would like to return to Cape Cod where she has family and because she is familiar with the area, having lived here for several years. She attended the lottery with her one-year-old son, Marcus. She said she hoped to get one of the apartments. "Especially because of him," she said.

Tags: housing, Affordable Housing on Cape Cod, housing assistance corporation

Telethon Highlights Stories About Homelessness

Posted by Laura Reckford on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 @ 06:30 PM

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Talking about the weeks and months she was homeless was so painful for one former Project Prevention client, she found it difficult to tell the story.

Her story will be just one of many that will be a part of the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon on Wednesday, December 11.

The telethon is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Housing Assistance Corporation. This year, the telethon is benefiting all four of HAC's shelters: NOAH Shelter, Angel House in Hyannis, Carriage House in North Falmouth, and the Village at Cataumet in Bourne.

Besides stories from shelter clients, there will be interviews with shelter staff and music from local school choirs throughout the Cape.

School choirs that have recorded performances for the telethon include Sandwich Soul Show Choir; North Falmouth Elementary School Choir; Cape Cod Academy Lower School Choir in Osterville; St. Pius X Elementary School Choir in South Yarmouth; Nauset Regional High School Honors Chorus; and Nauset Regional High School Treble Chorus.

Other musical groups and singers whose performances will air during the telethon are Falmouth Chorale, Falmouth, Sarah Swain, Katherine King, Molly Parmenter, Heather Cox, Allison Reed, David Kuehn, and Allen McGarry.

A video of Cape Cod Conservatory Ballet Ensemble will be shown.

And Rabbi Elias Lieberman of Falmouth Jewish Congregation will perform live.

The telethon is hosted by Minday Todd of WCAI with co-hosts Rick Presbrey, HAC President/CEO; Paul Pronovost, Cape Cod Times editor-in-chief; Matt Pitta of WXTK; and Sean Corcoran of WCAI.

The show airs live on December 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. on the Cape's local cable access channels and is also streamed live on the web at www.CapeMedia .org. Tune in and give to help homeless families on Cape Cod get back on their feet.

To donate to the telethon, go to sheltercapecodtelethon.org.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, NOAH Telethon, housing assistance corporation, NOAH Shelter, Village at Cataumet, Carriage House, Angel House, NOAH

Home Repair Funds Available From HAC

Posted by Laura Reckford on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 06:06 PM

Town of Barnstable Homeowners

Have you been delaying needed home repairs?

Don't know where to turn for funds?

Housing Assistance Corporation is accepting applications for the Home Owner Repair Program.

The program will help you make health and safety repairs such as heating systems, roofs, septic, mold, electric, carpentry, etc. 

Income eligible guidelines apply:

Maximum income for a household of 1: $45,100

Maximum income for a household of 2: $51,550

Maximum income for a household of 3: $58,000

Maximum income for a household of 4 : $64,400

Contact Brenda Rocklage at 508-771-5400 ext. 285 or brocklage@haconcapecod.org for more program details and application information.


Tags: saving money, saving energy, Weatherization

Fun Guaranteed At Cavalcade’s All-Star Annual Concert

Posted by Laura Reckford on Tue, Nov 26, 2013 @ 06:23 PM

Chandler Travis

Mark your calendars for the 10th Anniversary Cape Cod Christmas Cavalcade For the Homeless, the rollicking concert that is organized by musician Chandler Travis as a fundraiser for the NOAH Shelter, an emergency shelter in Hyannis for people who are homeless.

The event, featuring numerous bands from the Lower Cape, is Sunday, December 15 at 7 PM at the Jailhouse Tavern at 28 West Road in Orleans.

Among the bands that will be performing are The Ticks, Fred Fried, Bruce Maclean, Christine Rathbun, the Rip It Ups, Steve Shook, Toast and Jam, Sarah Swain & the Oh Boys, the Catbirds, the Greenheads, the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Steven Russell, Zoe Lewis, Tripping Lily, the Fix-It Sisters, and the Athol Thingerth.

The suggested donation is $25. All proceeds go to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis.

Tags: Calvacade, Chandler Travis, NOAH Shelter

HAC's CEO Says, 'When Battling Poverty, Start With Education'

Posted by Laura Reckford on Sun, Nov 24, 2013 @ 07:10 AM

rick at big fix

By Rick Presbrey

Why should it be a surprise that poverty is on the rise in this country? In this case I am only talking about financial poverty not poverty of the spirit, i.e. giving up on yourself and the potential for your life, though that is also on the rise.

People become poor for many reasons but lack of suitable employment is a big factor. How do we solve the problem? First, there needs to be an adequate supply of jobs that pay a living wage. Second, there needs to be a labor force that has the qualifications to do the jobs that pay a living wage.

Of course some are poor because they don’t have the physical, intellectual, or emotional strength to fully support themselves.  Examples of that might be seniors, people with disabilities, and those with mental or physical chronic illnesses .

But what about kids graduating from high school or even college that can’t get a good job? How can you earn seven, eight, or 10 dollars an hour and support yourself?  Not too long ago I met with a group of 19 mothers living in a shelter and none of them had incomes above $600 per month. Almost all of them had domestic violence and substance abuse in their family history.  Almost none had graduated from high school and about half had their General Equivalency Diploma (GED).  Some had vocational plans and ideas, none of which I thought would result in any of them becoming self-supporting anytime soon.

All were deeply involved in the struggle to raise one or more children, getting housing, and getting transportation. If they need to, number one, believe in themselves, and number two, move from an income of $15,000 a year to what I believe they need, at least double that, how do they do that?  One simple way to start is getting more education. But few are ready for the challenges of community college or ready to get their lives settled down so that going to school full time is possible.

Growing up, everyone needs stability and nurturing. But the people we are talking about haven’t had it. Everyone also needs a value system foundation. College, which now seems a necessity to survive financially, wasn’t always a necessity. Now kids and their parents face the financially debilitating process of paying higher amounts for college and accumulating inconceivable debt. 

Our economic system is not delivering good paying jobs and is not guaranteeing a good education for everyone. Every parent and every able kid ought to know from elementary school on that he or she is expected to go to college and that paying for it is not a problem. To do less is to assure the ultimate failure of our system.

And, the “war on drugs” has to be fought through massive education. Kids are smarter that we think. If we teach them the pitfalls and temptations and the lack of choice for themselves that will result from bad decisions then we will have accomplished a lot.

I have spent a lot of time working with kids and I believe in them. And, starting from when they are young, I think most punishment is pointless.  Kids, I believe, react best from trusting them and them trusting themselves. Most kids, starting from when they are young, have healthy interests which we need to encourage in every way we can. Respect for others and yourself is learned at home. 


Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey

A Home For Hilda: HAC Client Buys Dream House

Posted by Laura Reckford on Sat, Nov 23, 2013 @ 06:00 AM

Hilda's family



A fire meant a fresh start for Hilda Haye and her family.

Last summer Hilda was among the 16 tenants left homeless after a fire in a neighbor’s unit caused damage at her apartment complex at 800 Bearse’s Way in Hyannis.

Hilda, 44, is from Jamaica and moved to Cape Cod in 2001 as a summer worker. But after more than 10 years on Cape Cod, this feels like home, she said. She found year-round work at Cape Cod Hospital as a certified nursing assistant and then realized there were opportunities for advancement if she became certified as a diagnostic tech.

 Now she works at Cape Cod Hospital as a diagnostic tech, a career she trained for with evening classes at Upper Cape Technical High School.

She became a US citizen one year ago and her youngest daughter, who is a senior at Barnstable High School, is also a US citizen, as is her 17-month old grandson, who was born at Cape Cod Hospital. Her older daughter works in the housekeeping department at the hospital.

After the fire at their apartment complex, it took months for the building to be declared suitable for occupants. First Red Cross stepped in. Then tenants, like Hilda and her family, came to Housing Assistance Corporation for help finding apartments. Displaced tenants were given a grocery gift card and one-week stay at a motel. But when those ran out, Hilda and her family were still without housing.

The family relocated several times over those months. “We bounced around with friends. I didn’t have the money for a hotel,” Hilda said. Some days she even stayed in the condemned apartment building while the rest of her family stayed with friends.

After three months with electricity still not restored at 800 Bearses Way, she decided to try to find somewhere else to live. That is where Housing Assistance Corporation’s non-profit real estate division, Cape Community Real Estate, came into the picture.

Hilda was referred to Housing Assistance Corporation for help finding a rental apartment but she soon learned that she could afford to buy a house. With the help of HAC’s Gael Kelleher, that is what she did.

“I didn’t know I had good credit. Financially, I thought it was scary because I didn’t have much money,” Hilda said.

She took HAC’s first time homebuyers class and was also eligible to use the county’s first-time homebuyer down payment assistance program which is administered by HAC.

Hilda has lots of praise for Gael’s work in finding her a home in Centerville and then helping her to close on the property. “She was excellent. She’s the best. She helped me with a lot of the details,” the happy first-time homebuyer said.

They had looked at eight to 10 houses over about two months when Gael called one day, saying, “I think I found the perfect house for you.” Hilda went to look and knew right away. “This is it,” she said.

Hilda said she finds the house to be roomy enough for her family and she loves the location in Centerville, which is convenient to her job at Cape Cod Hospital and her daughter’s school. “It’s awesome, very quiet and laid back,” she said.

Gael, who is a full-service Realtor, was even there for the home inspection.

Hilda closed on the house in June. “It was exciting,” Hilda said. Her next plan is to take HAC’s Home Forever class in September.

Tags: Homebuyer Education, HAC, Cape Community Real Estate

Biggest Class Ever of First-Time Homebuyers

Posted by Laura Reckford on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

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Housing Assistance Corporation’s most popular class in its Education Center is the First Time Home Buyer Class, but this fall, the class reached a milestone.

The First Time Home Buyer session ending September 30, 2013 graduated 50 people representing 33 households of potential new homebuyers to Cape Cod, according to Cheryl Kramer, HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center Manager.

“It’s the first time since I arrived [at HAC] that we graduated a full class of 50 people,” said Cheryl, who has been with the agency for six years.

HAC has offered the First Time Homebuyer workshop series for more than 16 years, Cheryl said.

Students in the last session were a diverse group. They came from the following towns and villages: East Falmouth, Mashpee, East Sandwich, Osterville, Centerville, Hyannis, West Hyannisport, Barnstable, West Yarmouth, South Yarmouth, South Dennis, Dennis Port, Harwich, Harwichport, Chatham, North Chatham, Brewster, Orleans and Eastham.

Their incomes ranged from $20,000 to more than $100,000 per year.

They heard about the class from friends, Realtors, banking staff, Habitat for Humanity, a local housing authority, an online search, HAC’s website or from taking other classes at HAC.

Cheryl said all four evenings of the class offer different topics and speakers, resulting in active engagement from students.

There are many benefits to taking the First Time Homebuyer Class, starting with knowledge about the home-buying process, including who is involved in the process and what role they play. The class is required to qualify for some of the loans available in Massachusetts for first time homebuyers. It is also required for people who want to apply for the Down Payment and Closing Cost Program.

People who take the First Time Homebuyer class are taught how to purchase a home and avoid foreclosure, Cheryl said.


Tags: Homebuyer Education, housing assistance corporation

Mark Your Calendar: Shelter Cape Cod Telethon on December 11

Posted by Laura Reckford on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 @ 06:17 PM

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The biggest fundraiser of the year for Housing Assistance Corporation is the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon. This year, the telethon is benefiting all four of HAC’s shelters: NOAH Shelter, Angel House in Hyannis, Carriage House in North Falmouth, and the Village at
Cataumet in Bourne.

The show airs live on Wednesday, December 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. on the Cape’s local cable access channels and is also streamed live on the web at www.capemedia.org.

Once again, the master of ceremonies this year will be Mindy Todd, the host of The Point on WCAI. On air guests will include Paul Pronovost, editor of the Cape Cod Times, Matt Pitta, news director at WXTK and Sean Corcoran of WCAI. There will be videos of a variety of local musical entertainers, from Cape singer/songwriter Sarah Swain to the children’s choir at St. Pius X School in South Yarmouth.

There is still a need for people who want to be “fundraisers” on the air, manning the phone bank of 16 red phones. Join local politicians, celebrities and neighbors to sit on the phone bank and telephone friends and family to ask them to donate for this important cause. To volunteer at the telethon, which takes place at Cape Cod Community Media Center in Dennisport,
contact Mary Everett-Patriquin at volunteer@haconcapecod.org or 508-771-5400 ext. 279.

To donate to the telethon, visit sheltercapecod.org.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Family Shelter, HAC, NOAH Telethon, NOAH Shelter, Village at Cataumet, Carriage House, Angel House