Despite its position as a national leader in the innovation economy, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has also been a leader of a different sort: in the proliferation of families with children experiencing homelessness. By one measure, the number of people in families experiencing homelessness during a single night grew nearly 72 percent from 2007 to 2020. Other Massachusetts estimates suggest that some 20,200 children under the age of six experience homelessness over the course of a year, or one in every nineteen children in this age range.
High housing costs in Massachusetts are a significant cause of family homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the statewide average Fair Market Rent of a 2-Bedroom apartment is almost $1,900 a month. This means that a worker at minimum wage would need to work more than 107 hours a week to afford an apartment large enough to fit a family with children.
Given this reality, NLIHC developed a concept of a “housing wage,” or the wage that a worker would need to earn in order to pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. As of 2021, this wage would need to be $36.24 an hour statewide, but as high as $45.00 in higher-cost Metro Boston.
For too many families, such incomes are unattainable. Indeed, over 70% of very low-income households in Massachusetts spend more than 30% of their incomes on rent. Families burdened by high housing costs may find themselves a small setback—be it a layoff or a fender-bender—away from losing their home and entering shelter.
Disentangling the causes of high housing costs and solving them can be difficult. While local restrictions on new housing construction are a major contributor to high prices, so too is the state’s innovation economy, which attracts high-wage workers of many types. Rather than pursue all possible housing issues, Horizons tends to focus on policies that directly affect housing stability for families at lower-income levels.