on 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 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, 18,471 people in Massachusetts were counted as experiencing homelessness during the January 2019 point-in-time count conducted by the HUD Continua of Care across the state. (Part 1 of the 2019 HUD AHAR was released in January 2020.) This included:
    • 12,212 people in families with children
    • 6,259 adults over age 24 in households without children
    •  Of the 18,471 people counted as experiencing homelessness,
      • 917 people were identified as veterans
      • 480 young people were identified as unaccompanied youth, age 24 and younger
      • 1,392 people were identified as experiencing chronic homelessness
    • It is important to note that the definition of homelessness used for the point-in-time count excludes families and individuals who are experiencing homelessness and living in doubled up or hidden situations. Here is January 2020 coverage from Spare Change News on the 2019 point-in-time count results.
  • On June 30, 2020, there were 3,096 families with children and pregnant individuals in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program. 13 of these families with children were being sheltered in motels. (The number decreased to 11 families in motels as of September 22, 2020.) 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 June 2020 monthly EA-related data (PDF) and the March 2020 monthly EA-related data (PDF), including the reasons families needed to enter the shelter system. Available 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 2018-2019 academic year, public schools across Massachusetts were able to identify and serve 24,777 students who were experiencing homelessness, up slightly from the 2017-2018 academic year count of 24,071 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 inadequate supply of affordable housing perpetuates housing instability and homelessness.

  • Click here for the Out of Reach 2020 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 2020, the Massachusetts statewide housing wage is $35.52/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 ($1,847/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. The housing wage has been steadily increasing in Massachusetts. For 2019, it was $33.81; for 2018, it was $28.64; for 2017, it was $27.39; for 2016, it was $25.91; and for 2015, it was $24.64/hour.
  • Massachusetts ranks as the 3rd least affordable area state in the country in the Out of Reach 2020 report, when looking at the 50 states and Washington, D.C., behind only Hawaii and California.
  • An April 2019 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston shows that there were fewer than one affordable units for every two extremely low-income households in need of rental housing. A downloadable version of the full report can be found here (PDF).
  • 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 2019 HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress included a national point-in-time count of 567,715 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 2020, the national average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,246/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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Basic Facts on Homelessness and Housing in Massachusetts and Across the Country

In Massachusetts:

The presence or absence of affordable housing is a main driving force behind the rise in homelessness.

Poverty contributes heavily to homelessness.

Across the United States: