Real-Time Data on the Supply/Demand of Low Income Housing


Table of Contents
HousingWorks: The Key Concepts.
Snapshots: Data Reports for the Last Five Years, Metro-Boston Area.
White Papers, Comprehensive Reports, and Presentations.

The Key Concepts

The HousingWorks.net model replaced the many sets of broken housing networks and converted them to a Symbiotic Ecosystem. This page helps explain why and how we did this, and publishes results that prove the efficacy of model. The key concepts behind the model are:

Silos are bad, and our popular governor doesn't like them: So why are there more of them in his administration?

The difference between Silos and monopolies: The Sherman Antitrust Act was enacted in 1890 to curtail combinations of power that interfere with trade and reduce economic competition. It outlaws both formal cartels and attempts to monopolize any part of commerce in the United States. ven the authors of the groundbreaking Sherman Anti-Trust Regulations in 1890 were clear that competition is good for produces, but not for social services." This is why there are not multiple IRS agencies, and only one department of public health in each state. This is also why Nationalized Health Care serves more at less cost and with overall improved health outcomes.

"The problem with silos is that they cause people to focus insularly on the specific mission contained within their agency." -

"As Maslow's Heirarchy makes clear, it is a cruel irony that government agencies set up silos that force people looking for housing to try to learn how to look for housing - a two year process - when they don't already have housing. The irony is particularly cruel when the agency accepts an award for doing so." - John LaBella, HousingWorks founder.
The Affordable Housing World is full of silos. Some 2020 Massachusetts-based examples are:
  • housing search websites;
  • the MassHousing "White Book";
  • the 'centralized Section 8 voucher list;
  • websites that lists state-funded shelters for families;
  • listings of housing targeted to military veterans;
  • the HMIS model.
The immediate problem with silos is that the same person might be eligible for all these types of hopusing, so s/he has to know that they exist in order to locate them, and then s/he has to master different search techniques in order to get the best results from each resource - and only THEN start to apply for housing. But Maslow's heirarchy tells us that learning how to do research, and then performing research - is something one can only do well if they have no need for housing.

The larger problems with silos are that:
  • Each silo can and will aggressively distribute anecdotes of success throughout its network, and through all mainstream media outlets, using persuasive sound-bytes; but the damage that silo causes is much harder to measure, the study is never performed by the silo-creator, and the extent of the damage is impossible to write about it in a form short enough to be usable to many media outlets. In this way, silos cannot help but end up hiding the seriousness of a crisis.
  • Silos are disquised as "Centralized Systems" but the phrase "Centralized Systems" is simply being confused with "universal access" which is not the same thing at all. The phrase "centralized system" often hides what it is that is being centralized: that is, power or convenience for a few instead of full-service for all who need it. The way to tell the difference between a silo and a truly universal access system is easy, because there are plenty of variables that distinguish them:

    1. First, all the ingredients that lead to housing for all have to be accessible in one place - for the applicant, the landlord, and the government oversight person.
    2. Second, no persons should be able to get to information about housing before everyone else.
    3. Third, a silo will publish anecdotal proofs of service, while never studying, and reporting out, who is not being served.
    4. Fourth, silo developers tend to talk up the idea that 'competition between multiple silos makes individual silos strive for better service', but this assumes a false equivalence between the income-stable and the income-poor: low-income applicants don't have the leisure, money, and resources to window shop for the most desirable options.
    5. Fifth, silos never publicize a comparison cost to tax-payers of maintaining multiple systems when one would suffice.
    6. Sixth, silos are sluggish or even inflexible in times of crisis.
Even when a governor is an expert on the problem of silos, and even when a government's own analysis talks about ways to provide better service and save cost by eliminating silos (See 2003 Legislative Task Force Report, pages 12, 13 and 18), some government agencies continue to create silos in defiance of those lessons - and in defiance of their own leadership! How can this happen? Leadership by necessity hires from a network of already visible non-profits and political bureaucrats who have a long history of supporting each other's silos in order to move themselves up the food chain, and who also have a long history of moving between government and the non-profit/for-profit world. In cases where an executive might upset the status quo by trying to eliminate silos in his/her own department, s/he will still be unable to eliminate the silos in OTHER government departments, over whom s/he has no power. Leaders who might question the status quo get gentrified out of consideration for decision-making roles because 'they are not team players'. Finally, bureaucracies exist specifically in order to stall collapse, not to implement new paradigms. Also, an executive is heavily dependent on the political connections of his appointees, especially in election years. Large governing systems are themselves a network of silos, so will never willingly get rid of them - and the ongoing crisis in the Low-Income Housing world reveals the limits of the executive role in reducing silos. Solutions must come from outside the system, often from the grass-roots. The ability to create silos, justify them to one's superiors, and keep them operating for decades is something one only sees in large systems where those at the top don't have the time to do the detailed investigation that reveals the damage silos cause.

Convert existing broken networks to an ecosystem with a flexible system
that minimizes systems change - and avoid a piecemeal installation

  1. There are 44 types of low income housing. The same applicant or household might be eligible for most of these types of housing.
  2. S/he will apply to four these types of housing, if able to overcome formidable obstacles. This reports out - if at all - as four households seeking housing.
  3. Outcome 1: No one knows:
    a. how many different people are seeking a low-income unit,
    b. why they need low-income housing, and
    c. how long they are waiting forlow-income housing - because data can't get shared across the hundreds of silos involved.
  4. Outcome 2: Neither the government nor the public has meaningful, real-time facts at hand about how serious the housing crisis is, and if things are getting better or worse. Real remedies are prevented or avoided.

Details as to how our model works can be found elsewhere on the site, or can be presented live or via webinar. But the main outline is, the HousingWorks model simplifies the search/apply process for all users, and allows any social worker to operate as a sophisticated housing advocate who can handle many more clients, bringing in the populations that are still excluded from the system due to language barrier, lack of computer skill, disability. As a "centralized applications process" we can run unduplicated counts of applicants across all 40-plus types of housing, something that is still a unique feature of our system. The model also stores detailed data on the inventory of all the 40-plus housing types, so that we can one day know, for example, the exact number of 1BR wheelchair units that are on the first floor for each development (higher-floor wheelchair units are a trap when there is a fire and the elevator is disabled). Landlords all benefit from our system even if they don't know we exist, because they receive applications that are legible, from income-eligible persons, and only when the waitlsit is actually open. (these were all serious problems prior to our launch.) Any landlord whose information is incorrect or out-of-date will be alerted the minute ONE application is submitted - and the landlord has a near instantaneous way to contact us and correct the mistake; so the more users of the system, the more current and easy it becomes to update information. The lowest end user has the power to help the highest end user with minimal inconvenience to either!

Data must be a side effect of increased service delivery, not the other way around

The Maslow's model shows that to try to solve a problem by first requiring applicants to collect and supply high-level data, with a promise that this would result in the later satisfaction of basic needs, is a recipe for failure. But many goverment systems continue to operate on this premise, with the national HMIS as a prime example - it promised to end homelessness by 2014, but ended up taking money away from the homeless in order to record who was not getting housed. Homelessness has increased substantially since the launch of HMIS. However, the national government is publishing out-of-date data as if it were somehow an effective tool to shape future policy and a justification for keeping their jobs.

In contrast, HousingWorks is a system that instantly solves accessibility problems for all the stakeholders; saves time and money for everyone in the process; and allows for data reports that are a side effect of that increased service delivery. Simply acknowledging the existence of the tool provides some benefits, and using it extensively provides the kind of data that can truly inform the public and shape meamningful housing policy. For example: knowing: "How many different households are full-time employed but homeless at this moment in time, and how much money are they making at their jobs?" tells us a great deal about how we should proceed.

Housing Data is also more accurate when it is a side effect of increased service delivery: applicants with a stake in getting housed, and providers with a stake in filling units, provide the best quality data in real-time. Since increased service delivery is our mission, HousingWorks.net has been collecting valuable and precise data on applicants, inventory, and waitlists through this process.

We believe that the best definition of Affordable Housing is that "anyone who works a full-time job in a city chould be able to afford a rental or home in that same city"; a healthy city needs its service populations to live in the communities where their jobs are located; a city built on the premise that it's okay for the bulk of the service population to commute two hours each day to a low-paying job is a city that is losing its soul and wasting its Social Capital. One of the roots of increasing homeless problem is the lack of sufficient Social Capital. Over time, these reports will tell us if Boston has sufficient affordable housing - and keeps it soul, or not.

Beginning in the late 90s, the ability to live in Boston as a full-time employed person ceased to be possible for a significant portion of the population. What the reports below show us at present is that, in the most recent years, 'Affordable Housing' units are only those priced under the 30%, 50% and 60% AMI levels. (You can think of 60% AMI as "two full-time jobs at MacDonald's".) Other ways of defining Affordable Housing is, it is housing priced for applicants making 'just at or below 'Minority Median Wage'. (Median wage varies greatly by race and educational level, so Boston's current, generic median wage definition is an inappropriate tool for measurement). Important Note: To keep this webpage short, the reports below are restricted to 1BR applicants in the lower AMI levels in the Boston area. Reports for all other bedroom sizes are listed at the bottom of the page, as links. A few large-scale reports and white papers are also available at the bottom of this page. You can download any graphic or report by clicking on it. Additionally, HousingWorks staff are available to make more comprehensive live presentations, upon invitation.

Snapshots from the Five Year Trends Report, below

(Download more Comprehensive Housing Trends Report for
2016-2020, Metro-Boston Area

1. Income Categories of Applicants Whose Information is Recorded in HousingWorks

2. Numbers of Households Full-Time Employed and Homeless or At Risk of Homelessness
Across All Bedroom Sizes

3. Average Waitlist Times - Boston, Cambridge, Newton 2016-2020

One-off Reports of Waitlist Times often unintentionally misrepresent: reports showing trends over time provide a better measure of the effectiveness of housing policies. As you can see below, the Average Wait Time in Boston for 1BR, 2BR, and 3BR units in the moderate- and lower- income ranges has not significantly changed in the last five years; while Worst Wait Times (seen farther down the page) have increased. The full meaning of this data is best explained and discussed in our live presentations.

4. Worst Waitlist Times for 1BR 30%, 50%, 60%, and 80% AMI in Boston, Cambridge, and Newton 2016-2019

Applicants who sit on our waitlists must respond to an Annual Waitlist Update Letter, year after year, in order to stay on a wait-list. As these reports show, a number of applicants have been responding for 20-plus years. Why would anyone do that? Common reasons are: when desired housing is closer to job, family, or culture; when one housing location is deemed safer, or comes with better schools, transportation options, etc.; when applicants have been displaced to a location outside the city and want to eliminate the long commute to jobs, so as to spend more time with family.

White Papers, Comprehensive Reports, and Presentations
        We are available to present and discuss these reports with your group

Comprehensive Five Year Trends Report, with Commentary
Offered to the public free of charge.

2017 September Report prepared and delivered to the Mass Coalition for the Homeless
Delivered to Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless

White Paper: Barriers to Subsidized, Affordable, Special Needs Housing
        When Multiple Helping Systems Become the Obstacle
        Authors: John LaBella, Allison Waggener, and John Kraft

2017 November Report: What Does “Affordable” Mean in Boston?
This post was published by an independent affordable housing professional unaffiliated with the City of Boston.
        Article from Medium.com by Grace Holley 2017-11-06


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Converting Broken Networks into an Ecosystem

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