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Program finds homes for homeless families

Date: 5/3/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein came to Holyoke to announce the success to date of moving homeless families out of motels and hotels and into permanent housing.

Gornstein met with Mayor Alex Morse, state Sen. Michael Knapik and state Rep. Aaron Vega on April 29.

The 60 families that were being housed in the Day's Inn in the city have been moved as well as the 100 families at the Quality Inn, Gornstein said.

The state has long been using hotels as temporary housing for families and Gornstein pointed out that a motel or hotel room is not a fit place for a family of adults and children.

The effort in Holyoke is part of a statewide campaign Gornstein is leading to end the practice and get families into affordable housing.

"We made significant progress in recent months," Gornstein said. He added that since last July the number of families in hotel rooms across the Commonwealth has decreased from 513 to 255.

The policy, he noted, he also an expensive one as one the average the hotel rooms cost the state $3,000 a month. He estimated the state has saved about $10 million already and will save even more in the next year.

He said it takes times to work with each family, assess their needs, find appropriate housing and then offer rental assistance.

Gornstein said part of the state's approach is the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, which is designed to prevent homelessness, According to its website, "RAFT helps families who are behind on rent, mortgage payments, or utility bills. RAFT also helps families who have to move but do not have enough money to pay a security deposit, utility startup costs, or first/last month's rent. Families can get up to $4000 within a 12-month period."

RAFT, he explained helps people stay where they are.

The challenge Gornstein is facing is two-fold, he explained: finding affordable housing for these families and making sure the funding is available for the support programs necessary to the program.

He said that in Western Massachusetts there is a shortage of affordable units and Gornstein said in June the state would begin to work with developers in a program designed to encourage the allocation of affordable units in apartment complexes.

Gornstein also said he hopes the Legislature approves the funding request to support the homelessness prevention programs.

"We are hopeful we cam maintain the commitment," he said.