A Look at MHA’s Tenancy Preservation Program
Already feeling lost and struggling in a domestic violence situation, Grace Scevola realized her soon-to-be ex was stealing from her. “I was living in an efficiency apartment and suddenly without the financial resources to pay for anything. I couldn’t cover the rent. My electricity was shut off. I couldn’t buy food. I tried to get help to pay my rent, but because his name, not mine, was on the lease the organizations I turned to for assistance couldn’t help me. I was scared and about to be evicted when Jenni Pothier from MHA came to visit me and told me about TPP. She must have gotten my name from the Housing Court. Her visit changed my life.”
The Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP) helps prevent homelessness of individuals and families who are facing eviction because of behavior related to a disability, such as mental illness, developmental disability, substance use or aging-related impairments. This state-funded intervention program consults with the Housing Court and helps people with a mental health diagnosis, who are low income and have a housing subsidy to maintain housing in a way that is neutral to the landlord and tenant. TPP has a high success rate of stabilizing participants to address an underlying mental health diagnosis.
“People experiencing symptoms associated with mental health or Intellectual Disabilities are not choosing to become homeless,” said Jenni Pothier, TPP Program Director for MHA. “Nearly always there are underlying reasons. For example, someone may be struggling with an active addiction and spending money on substances. A TPP intervention can help the tenant to access substance use services, therapeutic services, services for any children in the household, and access to financial resources to make the landlord whole. TPP can create a plan so that, moving forward, payments of rent are no longer an issue. TPP can assist with bringing apartments back into compliance if there are lease violations, such as those that may result from hoarding.”
“Since I’ve been in the program, everything has fallen into place,” said Grace. “Jenni helped get me the counseling I needed, I not only took her advice, but followed it. I have my providers and transportation in place, I’m able to coordinate all that with my insurance company. The amount of dedication from Jenni and the team at MHA has been just amazing. I had lost everything, but now I am getting help to get back on my feet. I’m living in a beautiful apartment. I don’t want to think about what could have happened to me without TPP. For me it’s a God-send.”
According to Pothier, TPP is successful because it doesn’t only address the issue of overdue rent. “TPP works to address the underlying social determinants such as mental illness, substance use and poverty, because unless those issues are addressed the tenancy problems will continue. We help people improve their lives, and that’s what helps keep them going forward.”
Last year (FY 2017), TPP directly assisted 877 households across Massachusetts. When a TPP case is closed, that means the tenancy is stable and sustainable. In FY2017, 652 cases were closed by TPP. Homelessness was prevented in 607 of those cases, which is a 93% homelessness prevention rate. The average cost per TPP case was $2,339. In comparison, the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) estimates the cost to house a homeless family for the average stay of 324 days is $37,908 per family.
“The Tenancy Preservation Program is a signature program of the Massachusetts Housing Courts,” according to retired Housing Court Judge, William H. Abrashkin, Executive Director, Springfield Housing Authority who was part of the original think tank to launch TPP locally. “Its used by parties in court and as its name suggests, its purpose is to help both landlords and residents avoid eviction and maintain tenancies where the resident or household members have difficulty complying with their tenancy requirements due to mental disabilities. It does this through assessments, interventions and facilitating access to services needed to make the tenancies work for all concerned. Since the program was founded jointly by the Western Division Housing Court and MHA in the late 1980’s, it has expanded its services to Housing Courts throughout the state, where it has helped preserve many thousands of tenancies over the years.”
Nationally, TPP is recognized as a community best practice, winning the Special Housing Needs category of the National Council of State Housing Agencies and earning semi-finalist honors for the Ford Foundation’s Innovations in Government Award.
One challenge faced by TPP is that demand for its services far outstrips available funding levels. In addition to state funding, the program has received grants from private sources that recognize the program’s value to the community. The Oak Foundation, the Carlisle Foundation, the Gillette Foundation, Liberty Mutual and Tufts Health Plan all have made significant donations to TPP.
Grace points out that TPP offers help when people are in difficult circumstances, but they have to want to change their life. “If you want to change your life, they help you make it happen,” she said. “They won’t do the work for you, but they will give you advice, access to resources and support so you can take the initiative and make the change for yourself. With the opportunity of a safe place to live and help to get back on my feet, why wouldn’t I want to do that? TPP helped me so much I’m heading back to school in the fall. I have my Associate’s Psychology/Liberal Arts, and now I’m going to work toward my Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. I want to give back. I want to help people like I was helped.”
Across the state, regional TPP programs are operated by local, nonprofit providers of clinical and/or homeless services. MHA is the funded TPP provider in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties. To learn more about MHA, please visit mhainc.org.