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October 18, 2013

Families forced back to shelters as rental program ends

BOSTON -- For the past two years, Daysi Avalos was happy she and her five children had a home to live in, so it was a shock when the rental assistance she received from the state ran out last month.

She and her children - who range in age from 8 to 18 - were forced to leave their Dorchester apartment immediately and move into a motel shelter in Leominster, the closest one available, she was told.

Avalos is among the 5,400 families enrolled in the state’s HomeBASE rental assistance program that are starting to roll off the two-year program. The assistance is scheduled to end for all recipients by June 30, 2014, according to a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Community Development.

“I was just able to get some of the clothes for my kids. They told me if I didn’t do exactly as the letter said I would lose out on everything. I had to leave all my dishes and everything behind,” Avalos told the News Service through a Spanish-speaking interpreter.

Lawmakers and homelessness advocates are worried there could be many more families like Avalos in the coming months as the HomeBASE program comes to an end.

The number of homeless families in Massachusetts seeking shelter in hotels and motels surged over the summer, jumping from 1,230 in April to 1,710 in August. Last week, the number hit an all-time high of 2,038, according to DHCD.

State housing officials estimate approximately 20 percent of the people who come off the program will wind up back in shelters. Advocates think the number could be higher.

So far, the numbers have come in lower, according to Matthew Sheaff, a spokesman for DHCD. Of the families that transitioned off assistance in September, 91 percent moved into permanent affordable housing. Others took a lump sum, up to $4,000, that helped them move to a more affordable place.

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