Mass. Investigating Department With Critical Role in Housing Crisis: Sources

Sources tell the NBC10 Boston Investigators that Massachusetts is looking into complaints against upper management at the Department of Housing and Community Development and employee concerns about how cases are being handled

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There's turmoil inside the Department of Housing and Community Development, with no end in sight to Massachusetts' housing crisis.

The department has an important mission to help homeless families find affordable housing, but it's still having a difficult time finding emergency shelter for families in need.

Through records and multiple sources with direct knowledge of what's happening, the NBC10 Boston Investigators discovered state investigations are underway within DHCD involving complaints against upper management and employee concerns about how cases are being handled.

This comes at a time when applications for emergency assistance for shelter continue to pour in, with more homeless families being placed in hotel rooms across the state.

"Just please help," said one mother living in a room with her daughter at the Baymont Inn in Kingston.

The state first placed her in the congregate shelter setting at Devens, where she said the living conditions were challenging.

Thousands of families experiencing homelessness across Massachusetts are guaranteed emergency housing in the state, leading to many arriving in hotels without warning and causing challenges for cities and towns.

"There was one room with 60 people," she said. "There were a lot of kids there. You could pretty much only have what fit under your two cots."

She said her daughter missed three weeks of school because they've been bounced from place to place.

This family is one of hundreds being housed in hotel shelters while the homeless coordinators working for the state's Department of Housing and Community Development scramble to try to find affordable housing for placement. The cases continue to pile up.

"There's a lack of shelters in the state, and there's a lack of homeless coordinators inside to do that work," said David Foley, president of SEIU Local 509, which represents homeless coordinators who have a critical mission during this crisis. "We recently hired a bunch of people into DHCD and about half of them turned over and left the agency quickly. The burnout from the frustration is really being felt as a problem with retention."

According to the union and data we obtained from the state, there are only 40 homeless coordinators handling the entire state's caseload, with almost 6,000 new applications for emergency shelter filed last year. Since January, the state has only been able to find permanent housing for five of the families living in hotels.

"The workload is completely overwhelming, which leads to a problem with retention in the agency," Foley said. "We're also hearing that there's a lack of direction and lack of clear protocols, so it's confusing for workers and it's unfair to the families that they work with."

Department emails shown to the NBC10 Boston Investigators sent from some of the families' lawyers, social workers and organizations trying to help show some of the challenges of the work. Conditions at one shelter were called "completely unacceptable." There was a complaint of unsafe sleeping arrangements for infants in another. It was claimed that there was no access to food at some hotels. Another email said hunger and insufficient nutrition are affecting some new mothers' ability to breastfeed.

Sources told the NBC10 Boston Investigators the state investigations into the inner workings of DHCD are being handled by agencies that look into employee complaints including discrimination, retaliation and harassment. The investigations come as the time for families living in hotel rooms stretches on.

The state's emergency assistance shelter system is overburdened with many families in need of help.

"They need more help for the homeless, the homeless parents," the mom from the Baymont Inn told NBC10 Boston.

Foley said the homeless coordinators are hearing from clients every day "that, you know, 'My application wasn't processed.' 'I was in my car overnight and the night before.'"

The state declined comment related to any investigations at DHCD, but a spokesperson tells us the housing crisis is limiting shelter options, and the administration of Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll will continue to work to increase housing capacity and to take care of any issues at the shelters.

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