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Columnists Patrick Boughan and Greta Hagen: Housing Partnership helps residents stay in their homes

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The vast majority of Hampshire County residents are considered cost-burdened, paying over 45 percent of their income for transportation and housing related costs.

Across Northampton, residents are caught in a balancing act to stave off challenges that could put their housing in jeopardy. Northampton’s affordability issue is a “clear and present danger” to an inclusive and diverse community, but efforts continue to mitigate this danger and there are ways that every Northampton resident can both understand the facts and be part of tackling this issue.

For homeowners and tenants, an unanticipated expense like a car repair, medical bill, or cold winter could disrupt their household’s delicate budget balance, forcing them to delay or miss rent or mortgage payments, and threatening their housing stability.

In a city of Northampton’s size, one eviction has ripple effects as “bad luck” spreads. Eviction sets one family back as they relocate with the stigma of eviction on their rental history. Through eviction proceedings, a landlord not only loses part of the expected rental income, but also may accrue legal fees.

Beyond this, the fabric of our community is damaged: the continuity of a classroom is disrupted as a child switches schools mid-year, a neighbor loses a ride to work or help with child care, an employer is short-staffed so an employee can attend court.

It is not only tenants who may be in danger of losing their homes. Census data shows that Northampton’s population is aging, as is the city’s housing stock. There are many families who bought their house years ago when their income was higher and housing prices lower. Now age and disability have limited them to fixed incomes while costs go up around them.

A lot of things can impact the ability to get and keep safe housing. During those stressful situations, it is difficult to find, navigate, and obtain the guidance or assistance needed to stay afloat.

Fortunately, there are many local resources available to tenants, homeowners and landlords, but navigating them — or even knowing they’re available, can be overwhelming.

The Northampton Housing Partnership is working to help make it easier for renters, landlords and homeowners to find resources. On the city of Northampton’s website, northamptonma.gov, the partnership has compiled a list of resources for renters, landlords and homeowners. The resource list includes information on where you can get legal help, along with contact information for local programs that assist with housing and energy assistance, as well as social services that address other needs that impact housing.

The partnership also has been involved in a number of projects to help landlords, renters and homeowners succeed in our community. In 2014, the Housing Partnership worked with the Center for Human Development, Community Legal Aid, and the Community Preservation Committee to create the Community Housing Support Service Project – a program that serves anyone in Northampton’s subsidized and public housing who is in danger of being evicted due to nonpayment issues.

Through case management that includes financial literacy counseling and targeted referrals, the community housing support service manager is able to help tenants resolve the underlying issues contributing to housing destabilization. During the program’s short duration, it already has been proven to help stop the cycle of eviction, and keep individuals and families in their homes.

In 2016, the Housing Partnership endorsed the launch of a housing rehabilitation program funded by the city of Northampton. This program helps income-eligible residents fix code violations in their homes, remove lead paint and weatherize by linking them to federal and state funding. This improves the quality of life of residents, improves the health of the local housing stock, and helps create jobs locally.

In February, the Northampton Housing Partnership held a legal forum at which local landlords were able to get tips on how to succeed in the complex business of rental property ownership. Landlords can also access workshops and individual counseling at Way Finders, formerly known as HAP Housing.

If you know of other area housing or social services resources that could be highlighted on the website, please contact Peg Keller in the mayor’s office.

The partnership is still actively seeking members. If you are interested in supporting efforts to preserve and create new solutions to address Northampton’s housing needs, contact Peg or join us on the first Monday of each month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Room 18 of City Hall. Our meetings are open to the public and all are welcome.

Patrick Boughan and Greta Hagen are members of the Northampton Housing Partnership, which is appointed by the mayor and charged with identifying and addressing the city’s housing needs, particularly for households with low and moderate incomes. The other members who contributed to writing this guest column are Gordon Shaw, Michael Roy, Jim Reis, Richard Abuza, Rev. Todd Weir, Ali Brauner, Kyla Prior and Mark Goggins.