Massachusetts’ Wait List for Subsidized Housing Is Years Long—Despite Huge Number of Vacancies

( — In Massachusetts, 184,000 state residents are on a waiting list to receive one of the state’s 41,500 subsidized housing units, The Associated Press reported.

However, according to an investigation by WBUR and ProPublica, nearly 2,300 subsidized apartments are currently empty, and most have been for months if not years.

The state of Massachusetts pays local housing authorities to operate and maintain state-funded apartments, whether the units are occupied or not. As a result, even vacant apartments are costing state taxpayers millions due to delays caused by state and local mismanagement.

Local housing authorities are given 60 days to fill vacant units. However, as of the end of July, nearly 1,800 of those vacant apartments remained empty for over 60 days, despite the glut of people on the waiting list. About 730 more have been vacant for at least one year.

Massachusetts’ new Secretary of Housing, Ed Augustus, called the number of vacant units “unacceptable” and said his department is making changes that should soon improve the situation.

While low-income residents in most states rely on federal housing and other assistance like vouchers for private housing, Massachusetts is one of four states that also provide state-funded housing. The Massachusetts state-funded system is the largest in the country, with more apartments than the combined total of the other three states, New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii.

According to WBUR, the vacancies are due to several factors, including flaws in the online waitlist, a lack of funding for repairs and staff, and units being used for more than just housing.

Local housing officials say that the lack of workers is one reason it takes more than 30 days to turn units over as repairs and renovations become backlogged.

State officials estimate the current backlog for renovations amounts to $3.2 billion.

Throughout the state, local housing authorities have also converted around 120 subsidized apartments to use as offices, laundry rooms, storage areas, and even a police station.

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