Homelessness and Housing

in Massachusetts and across the Country.


  • The number of people experiencing homelessness and housing instability in Massachusetts remains very high.
  • According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, 20,068 people in Massachusetts (PDF) were counted as experiencing homelessness during the January 2018 point-in-time count conducted by the HUD Continua of Care across the state. (Part 1 of the 2018 HUD AHAR was released in December 2018.) This included:
    • 13,257 people in families with children
    • 6,267 adults over age 24 in households without children
    • 493 young adults ages 18-24 in households without children
    • 46 children and youth, under age 18, in households with only children
    •  Of the 20,068 people counted as experiencing homelessness,
      • 985 people were identified as veterans
      • 465 young people were identified as unaccompanied youth, age 24 and younger
      • 2,122 people were identified as experiencing chronic homelessness
  • On July 31, 2019, there were 3,557 families with children and pregnant individuals in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program. 17 of these families with children were being sheltered in motels. (The number increased to 18 families in motels as of November 29, 2019.) This number does not count those families who are doubled up, living in unsafe conditions, or sleeping in their cars. Click here for nightly data on the EA program from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, and here for the July 2019 monthly EA-related data (PDF), including the reasons families needed to enter the shelter system. Quarterly data from DHCD, from FY’13 to the present, also is available through this link.
  • In a special report to the Legislature in February 2019, DHCD reported that there were 7,106 children and youth (ages 0-20) in the EA program during the month of December 2018. Read more on page 2 of this document (PDF), which also provides additional information about families seeking Emergency Assistance shelter in November and December 2018.
  • During state fiscal year 2018, 4,895 families were assisted with emergency shelter and/or HomeBASE diversion assistance, out of the 8,145 families who completed applications for assistance. 3,250 families were denied assistance (40% denial rate, as reported by DHCD). More data on the EA and HomeBASE programs can be found on DHCD’s website, as well as in this February 2017 report from the Boston Foundation.
  • In the 2017-2018 academic year, public schools across Massachusetts were able to identify and serve 24,071 students who were experiencing homelessness, up from the 2016-2017 academic year count of 21,112 students who were experiencing homelessness.
  • The number of individuals experiencing homelessness has more than doubled since 1990.
  • On any given night in Massachusetts, the approximately 3,000 shelter beds for individuals usually are full or beyond capacity (supplemented by cots and sleeping bags).
  • Fiscal year 2018 data on the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition homelessness prevention program (which now is available to all household types, not just families with children) can be found in March 2019 reports from the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts
  • Sexual violence and homelessness often are interconnected. Click here for more information from our partners at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.


The presence or absence of affordable housing.

  • Click here for the Out of Reach 2018 report (PDF) from the National Low Income Housing Coalition on how low wages and high rents lock renters out in Massachusetts and all across the country. For 2018, the Massachusetts statewide housing wage was $28.64/hour, meaning that a worker would have to earn that amount per hour in order to afford the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment ($1,489/month), without having to pay more than 30% of their income toward rent. The housing wage is based on a worker working 40 hours/week, 52 weeks/year. For 2017, it was $27.39, for 2016, it was $25.91, and for 2015, it was $24.64/hour. Massachusetts ranked as the 6th least affordable area state in the country for 2018, when looking at the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
  • Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) estimates a shortage of 158,769 affordable rental homes for extremely low-income households in Massachusetts (November 2017).
  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report in March 2014 looking at the impact of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (more commonly known as Section 8) on households participating in the program and the larger economy. Click here for the full report and for Massachusetts-specific data.


Poverty contributes heavily to homelessness

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, the overall poverty rate in Massachusetts was just under 11.1% in 2017.
  • This includes an estimated 727,546 people in Massachusetts living in households that fell below the poverty threshold. This estimate includes 198,980 children under the age of 18 and 90,732 elders age 65 and older. 341,952 people were living in households with incomes under 50% of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • In December 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates — single-year income and poverty statistics for all counties and school districts. Massachusetts and national data can be found here.
  • An estimated 1 in 8 people in Massachusetts receive basic benefits through the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). DTA’s monthly Facts and Figures reports include data on the following programs: Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC/”Welfare”), Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC), State Supplemental Security Income (State SSI supplement), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/”Food Stamps”). 


  • The 2018 HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress included a national point-in-time count of 552,830 people found to be experiencing homelessness on a single night that winter.
  • As cited above, the annual Out of Reach report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows how low wages and high rents lock renters out all across the country. For 2018, the national average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,149/month.
  • More details on the housing market and challenges for renters in Massachusetts and beyond can be found in the 2018 edition of The State of the Nation’s Housing report from the Harvard University Joint Center on Housing Studies. 
  • To see an estimate of what it takes to afford housing and other basic necessities in each zip code in the United States based on household size and composition, check out the 2018 Family Budget Calculator from the Economic Policy Institute. For example, the calculator estimates that it would take an income of $94,458year to support a family of two adults and two children in Springfield, and $113,558/year for that same family in Boston.

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