Mass. Is Spending Hundreds of Dollars a Night to House Families in Hotels

The state houses homeless families in hotels, but the cost is staggering, and sometimes it means paying a premium

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Massachusetts emergency assistance shelter system is bursting at the seams as more and more families are in need of help.

Hundreds of families are being placed in hotels and the costs are staggering.  Massachusetts is the country’s only right-to-shelter state, which guarantees homeless families emergency housing. 

While the state is scrambling to find more units the NBC10 Boston Investigators found in some cases they’re paying a premium price per night. Invoices and contracts obtained by the Investigators outline the cost to house the thousands of people living in hotel rooms. In some cases the state is paying more than the nightly rate available on online websites.  Taxpayers are shelling out $229 a night at the Holiday Inn Express in Waltham. Online our team found a price of $137 a night and in person our producer was quoted different prices ranging from $109 to $150.

Mary Connaughton, the director of government transparency for the Pioneer Institute, told the NBC10 Boston Investigators when it comes to pricing, “Taxpayers, they want to make sure that you know the population is well served but it’s still their dime, so the dime needs to be spent wisely and get rates that are consistent with market rates.”

In many cases, the state is paying much more than the average monthly rental price for a two-bedroom apartment in Boston. The monthly tab for one room at the Days Hotel in Methuen in December was $6,355.  For the Homewood Suites in Chelsea in August, $9,579. In March taxpayers paid $1.67 million for all of the rooms rented at the Homewood Suites in Chelsea alone. 

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll addressed the crisis and use of hotels last month while touring the temporary shelter at Devens.

“We are unfortunately having to think about using motels and hotels and temporary facilities because there just isn’t enough housing that exists to meet the current need.”

The company negotiating for the hotels said the nightly rates for the state are cheaper than the average yearly cost per night. DHCD told the NBC10 Boston Investigators it’s looking for cost-effective ways to provide housing and that some of the higher rates may be for larger rooms or rooms that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a statement a spokesperson tells us in part, “The Healey-Driscoll Administration is committed to ensuring families in crisis have immediate access to safe shelter. Due to increasing housing costs, severely limited housing availability and new arrivals to Massachusetts, the family shelter system is operating at capacity.”

The state is directly negotiating some of the hotel contracts, with DHCD Director Alvina Brevard and Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox signing off, but many are being handled by the organizations managing the shelters. 

Mary Connaughton said if the use of hotels is going to be a long-term proposition, “It would make sense for the state to unify standards and come up with a system so they’re getting they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck for the taxpayer while at the same time taking care of the homeless.”

Methuen Mayor Neil Perry said the housing crisis is more of an epidemic now than it has ever been. It’s visible at Methuen’s Days Hotel which houses more than one hundred homeless families.

“There has to be a broader approach because it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse until the costs come back down. We’ve got people that are on the cusp of homelessness that are just hanging on by a thread," Perry said.

Driscoll said solving the crisis isn’t easy and the solutions have to be more than funding for a temporary shelter.

“We have to be in the game when it comes to housing, working at a local level with community leaders to understand how we can produce more housing and how we can preserve some of the existing housing we need.”

The state will try to negotiate more favorable longer-term leases when the current ones expire, according to a DHCD spokesperson. The supplemental budget includes money for an additional 1,100 units of shelter.

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