Somerville mayor announces new municipal housing voucher program

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne on Tuesday announced a new municipal voucher program that aims to help families often underserved by broader government housing programs.

“We know that families in need of housing help are falling through the gaps, and our new voucher program will help Somerville families that need it most secure stable, local, housing so they can continue to thrive here,” Mayor Katjana Ballantyne said in a statement. “Our Housing Needs Assessment showed that households with young children and households including persons of color, especially Black and Latino persons, are disproportionately impacted by local affordable housing challenges.”

Ballantyne said the city has already secured housing for eight participating families.

Housing voucher programs that subsidize housing costs are usually the domain of state and federal programs, officials said. However, many families fall through the gaps or can only receive very minimal support. Somerville’s program introduces a new option for vouchers offered at the city level for the most vulnerable local families.

Under Somerville’s municipal voucher program, participating families’ rent and utility costs will be capped at 30 percent of their income, with the voucher covering remaining rental costs, officials said. This applies even if their net household income is zero. The voucher program will cover all remaining rent and the security deposit.

The program is targeted to households paying at least 50% of income for rent and utilities, who are ineligible or poorly served by federal or state housing programs, and/or who are facing eviction or severe overcrowding, officials said.

Families with children in the Somerville Public Schools or local daycare programs were prioritized, Ballantyne said. The pool of candidates were identified through a collaborative effort between the Somerville Public Schools, Somerville’s anti-poverty agency the Community Action Agency of Somerville, Somerville Homeless Coalition, and the City’s Somerville Office of Immigrant Affairs and its Office of Housing Stability.

Twenty-seven families were selected to receive a voucher via an internal lottery system and the Office of Housing Stability is hoping to increase this number to 30, officials said.

“The devastating impact of involuntary displacement on children in our public schools who often have already experienced trauma led us to work as creatively and as doggedly as possible to find a solution for as many of these at-risk families as possible,” Ellen Shachter, director of Somerville’s Office of Housing Stability, said in a statement. “Seeing the first eight families move into their new homes was a priceless experience.”

The Cambridge Housing Authority will oversee the logistics of voucher recipient placement, officials said. Somerville’s Office of Housing Stability team has secured 12 project units for some of the selected families to move into, while the remaining families will work with the Cambridge Housing Authority to use their vouchers to find new housing or stay in their current household with an municipal voucher program rent subsidy.

Each family will be assigned a stabilization worker from the Community Action Agency of Somerville to help them access government resources and maintain their stabilized housing, officials said.

The program has incentives for participating landlords, including receiving a month’s rent as an incentive payment, the security deposit, and some funding for property repairs, officials said.

Recipient families will work with their Community Action Agency of Somerville stabilization worker and the Cambridge Housing Authority to annually recertify their eligibility, officials said. Unlike most housing subsidy programs, tenants’ rent will not increase between annual recertifications allowing them to benefit fully from increases in their income.

The program, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act until December 2024, has received commitments from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the city to sustain operations through the calendar year 2026, officials said. The city has contributed $1.8 million, matched by the Trust, with funds allocated through free cash.

Any landlords interested in participating in the program or anyone seeking more information may contact Ellen Shachter, director of the Office of Housing Stability, via email at eshachter@somervillema.gov or by phone at 617-625-6600, ext. 2580.

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