Tenancy Preservation Program of Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Tenancy Preservation Program prevents homelessness among persons with disabilities by acting as a neutral intermediary between landlord and tenant to address lease violations that might otherwise result in eviction. The program is a collaborative effort of MassHousing (the state housing finance authority), Massachusetts Housing Court, regional service providers, and the departments of State government responsible for mental health, public health, children and families, developmental services, and elder affairs.
Problem or Challenge:
The Tenancy Preservation Program is designed to prevent the destabilizing effects of eviction and the impact of housing instability and homelessness among people with disabilities. It was established to help tenants threatened with eviction because their mental illness, substance use, cognitive or other disability led to lease violations and the exhaustion of a landlord’s ability to handle the situation. The program’s goal is to preserve existing tenancies or to connect households to alternative and possibly more appropriate housing.
The Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP) acts as a neutral intermediary between landlord and tenant to overcome problems that might otherwise result in loss of housing and potential homelessness through eviction. Cases likely to be referred to TPP come into housing court when a landlord (either a private owner or a public housing authority) is planning to file papers to evict a tenant after other efforts to resolve the issues have failed. The housing court judge, landlord, legal services staff, or other referring agency usually knows or suspects that the tenant has a disability. They refer the person to TPP, where workers assess the situation, screen for eligibility, and develop a reasonable accommodation plan through discussions and negotiations with housing managers, the plaintiff and defendant’s attorneys, housing court mediators, relevant agencies, and the tenant. Typically, this involves identifying needed services, developing a service plan, managing and monitoring adherence to the plan, coordinating with appropriate organizations, and locating more appropriate housing if the tenancy cannot be saved.
By design, TPP is a collaborative program. There is a defined working relationship between each housing court division and its corresponding TPP. Some TPP programs have offices within the courthouse. The court’s involvement is essential in establishing the tenant’s right to reasonable accommodation, a critical element of the TPP model. In order to become a TPP case, program staff must identify a tenant’s disability and show that the lease violation is related to the disability. In doing so, the tenant establishes a right to reasonable accommodation, allowing the court to postpone eviction proceedings until a suitable accommodation can be identified and implemented. TPP plays a key role in identifying and establishing the components of reasonable accommodation. For non-payment of rent a typical accommodation would be a representative payee to manage public benefits on a tenant’s behalf to ensure that rent is paid on time. For hoarding or other “for cause” evictions, accommodations may be much more complicated and involve multiple community-based provider agencies. The role of TPP staff would be to identify those services and refer the tenant and to coordinate the service delivery until the tenancy is stabilized.
TPP currently operates in the state’s five housing court divisions serving tenants in ten counties and the City of Boston. It is currently administered by six community-based agencies across the Commonwealth. Each program has a program director, and budgets and staffing vary across the six sites. In 2009, staffing levels ranged from two to seven depending on location and staff worked with an average of 179 open cases per month. Over the course of 18 months (January 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009), TPP provided services related to 676 tenancies. The program also provided considerable consultation services directly to other tenants who were ineligible or on a wait-list or through other service providers.
Referral and Eligibility
TPP is flexible and open to all referral sources and situations. Close to 40 percent of referrals come from the housing court and over one quarter come directly from the tenant’s landlord (including public housing authorities). Other common referral sources are legal services, the tenant’s attorney, and community agencies.
Each TPP site has developed locally-appropriate eligibility criteria. At minimum, all six programs share the same core eligibility criteria: 1) the tenant must have a disabling physical, mental, developmental or health condition; and 2) the lease violation(s) must be directly linked to disability. Although a disability must be present for TPP involvement, neither the court nor TPP require that it be formally diagnosed or documented in order to refer or open a case. Substance use disorders and age-related conditions, such as dementia, qualify as disabilities for purposes of eligibility for TPP services.
In some TPP programs additional eligibility criteria are used as a mechanism for assigning priority to cases. Most TPP programs only serve tenants if a Notice to Quit has been issued. Some focus efforts on tenants in public or subsidized housing. Some have established criteria related to the concept of “preservable tenancy”—meaning that both the landlord and tenant must be willing to work with TPP or there is an ability to pay rent either through sufficient income or a housing subsidy. TPP often will not open cases if tenants simply do not have sufficient funds for rent even if they do have a disability. For the most part, TPP operates within a relatively short period of time after an eviction notice is served and before an eviction judgment is ordered.
A 2010 evaluation of the program by the UMass Donahue Institute found that once TPP becomes involved with a troubled tenancy the program is highly successful in achieving a positive outcome for the vast majority of tenants. More than eight out of ten closed cases resulted in stable housing either through the preservation of existing tenancy (72 percent) or moving to more appropriate housing (10 percent).
An additional seven percent of closed cases resulted in other housing placements, including living with family and friends or placement in an institution. Eleven percent of closed cases resulted in eviction or termination from TPP; only one percent of all closed cases are known to have resulted in eviction to a shelter or the street. Households with a history of homelessness and those with multiple disabilities were no more expensive to serve than those who had never been homeless or those with a single disability. Program services for households without children were significantly more costly than for those with children.
MassHousing calculated the average TPP cost per case at $2,418 in fiscal year 2011.
Contact Info for Follow-up:
MassHousing: www.masshousing.com. This includes links to the TPP brochure, local contacts, operations manual, and evaluation.
Promising Practice: Homelessness Prevention