Eviction Innovation and Faith Communities

What can social service agencies, foundations and city representatives do? Amazingly, they can reduce evictions.

What can social service agencies, foundations and city representatives do? Amazingly, they can reduce evictions.

In June of this year, a group of people gathered at Brockton City Hall to tackle one of the most pressing challenges in Massachusetts: evictions due to non-payment of rent. We were an unlikely group: two direct social service organizations; three major foundations; and representatives from the City of Brockton that focused on mobilizing solutions and resources across Boston, Quincy, and Brockton. 

Looking around the room, it was clear that this shouldn’t be an unlikely group. We each have our areas of work, regionally and content-wise, but we also have shared goals. And these goals are far too big to accomplish alone — systemic change for broken systems like housing, systems that cause long-term and devastating consequences for local families. 

 That June day was a celebration of an exciting expansion that will bring new services to South Shore families who are at risk of losing their housing, but it was also a call to action. We need to partner across geographic and organizational boundaries to find shared innovation to equally shared problems. Our message was clear: We can do more, we can do it now, and we need to do it together. 

housing first, but not only

Across the country, skyrocketing rents are driving working and poor households into homelessness. For families earning minimum wage, paychecks do not stretch far enough —it’s often impossible for them to cover rent, utilities, food, transportation, healthcare, and childcare. Many times they choose between going without or going into debt.

 For Boston’s Jewish community, housing remains an urgent issue. The Anti-Poverty Initiative of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP)  works with members of the Greater Boston Jewish community facing poverty — 40% of whom say housing is still their most critical need four years after the program launched, despite 91% who have continued to move toward stability.

 small shortfalls with catastrophic consequences

Among the working poor in this country, many families are living close to the financial edge. For these families, even normal day-to-day challenges like an unexpected car repair or an illness requiring a doctor’s visit can create a crisis. An estimated 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, and as many as 40% do not have the ability to pay $400 in unexpected expenses. 

Boston is one of the most expensive and inaccessible housing markets for poor households. Right now in Boston, one in every four rental households is paying more than 50% of their monthly income to rent.  A person earning minimum wage would need to work 120 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, in order to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Matthew Desmond, of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, estimates that even in expensive markets like Boston, people are losing their homes for owing an average of $1,500 in back rent. A seemingly minor financial shortfall triggers a devastating cascade of events. When someone gets hurt, becomes ill, or loses a job, suddenly their rent is at risk. Eviction becomes imminent.   

driven by Jewish values

In Boston, CJP’s work to address the eviction crisis is driven by the deeply held Jewish values that are the foundation of its identity as Boston’s Jewish Federation. “It’s part of who we are as a people,” says Rabbi Marc Baker, President and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies. “In fact, if you look at the way that the Hebrew bible phrases the commandment to take care of those in need, it’s actually incredibly powerful. ... It says, ‘When you see a person who falls on hard times, when you see a need, do not look away.’ The obligation to give, the obligation to help, the obligation to solve the world’s problems, begins with seeing the humanity of the person right in front of us and not looking away.”

CJP is taking action on these values by partnering with United Way, Bank of America Foundation, and HomeStart, an established housing service provider, to address the problem of non-payment evictions as the first step toward preventing homelessness. Every family should have a place to call home. Through this work in the broader community, CJP can pursue the shared goal of safe, secure, and stable housing for every family as a clear expression of its mission to strengthen Jewish life and improve the world. 

leading through collaboration 

Addressing the housing crisis is a clear place where collaboration is key. CJP offers its strengths as a convener, partner, and funder. HomeStart has a groundbreaking model as a direct service provider where they use funds that would previously have been used to evict families to instead keep them housed.  

The key in partnerships is leveraging the unique strengths of each organization. Direct service providers have on-the-ground expertise to look at root causes. Foundations have the capacity to step back and identify the gaps in services broadly that are leading to or perpetuating those causes.

HomeStart delivers vital eviction prevention services, but still needs more contracts with property owners to be able to reach those families at risk for eviction. CJP has funding to assist in expansion, but also the complementary strength of community, convening key people — landlords, developers, and real estate professionals — to introduce the model to possible adopters and ambassadors.

how does it work?

HomeStart’s Renew Collaborative model is the first eviction prevention program in the country to establish the business case for landlords to pay to prevent non-payment evictions.

The model is simple and highly effective. HomeStart intervenes on behalf of a tenant facing non-payment eviction, providing services that create a blueprint to address the immediate crisis (such as identifying eligible support for health care, child care, or utility bills), stop the eviction proceedings, and make an initial payment to the landlord toward the back rent owed. HomeStart then works with the tenant for 12 months to help them maintain housing stability. Leveraging HomeStart’s decades of experience in direct services, client advocates are able to build trusted relationships with landlords and clients alike and tailor the plan to their unique circumstances.

One year after the intervention, 97% of HomeStart clients are still in their home. Four years after the intervention, 95% have avoided non-payment eviction.

On average, HomeStart spends approximately $2,000 per household to successfully avoid an eviction. What is startling is that the average cost to Boston landlords to move forward with the eviction is three to five times more expensive; $6,000-$10,000 per household on average. For landlords and property managers, the cost savings are compelling: 

•       Boston Housing Authority confirmed that HomeStart saved them over $1 million in 2017.

•       The CEO of one of the biggest private institutional affordable housing managers stated “[The program] is strengthening our internal rate of return, and importantly, improving our ability to focus on creating healthier communities.”

•       HomeStart’s partnership with CJP, Bank of America, and United Way allowed expansion of Renew Collaborative into Boston’s South Shore as its proof-of-concept for statewide and potentially national scaling. 

“This program could effectively eliminate family homelessness by way of (non-payment) eviction for both the country’s working poor and families with subsidies. It is novel, efficient, and, most of all, it works.”

Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize Winning author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City and Director of the Eviction Lab of Princeton University

draft your plan

•   HomeStart and CJP are enthusiastic about how thought partnership, data analytics, and innovation can be used to generate practical solutions that address immediate problems while also creating systemic change. If you are excited about this model, or are working on another exciting innovation please contact Amanda Hadad at amandah@cjp.org, or Desiree Allen at allen@homestart.org

•   If you are involved with real estate in the Greater Boston area and are interested in learning more about how the Renew Collaborative model partners with landlords, please contact Matthew Pritchard at pritchard@homestart.org

•    If you are a member of the Greater Boston Jewish community and would like to learn more about CJP’s Social Justice (Tzedek) Initiative or be involved with this work, please reach out to Amanda Hadad at amandah@cjp.org


Matt Pritchard is President of HomeStart in Boston.

Amanda Hadad is Director of Caring and Social Justice at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

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This post is part of a series on Faith in Housing, a workshop for congregations to create affordable housing. “Eviction Innovation and Faith Communities” represents an  off-site  option for congregations with  some funding  accessible for affordable housing.

This post is part of a series on Faith in Housing, a workshop for congregations to create affordable housing. “Eviction Innovation and Faith Communities” represents an off-site option for congregations with some funding accessible for affordable housing.

Judy Seldin