Staying Home: Emergency Housing Voucher Keeps Cambridge Native Housed and Proud

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Richard McDowell is a lifelong North Cambridge resident, and at one point recently, this badge of honor for McDowell was hanging by a thread. His connection to the Cambridge Housing Authority goes deep, as McDowell grew up adjacent to the agency’s Jefferson Park property in a home owned by his mother. Many of his friends were CHA residents, and with support from his case worker from the City’s Multi-Service Center, the CHA was able to help keep him in his neighborhood after his 91-year-old mother informed him that she had sold the house, an effort made to find a place more conducive to her needs for aging. 

“I didn’t know where to turn to, I have everything here,” explained McDowell. “Staying in Cambridge is difficult these days because of how expensive it’s become, but luckily I have good people in my corner and I was so happy the Cambridge Housing Authority could issue me a voucher, and on top of that as luck would have it, to show me a home in the very neighborhood I grew up in. I took it without hesitation or seeing anything else.” 

“I am so happy,” McDowell reflected. “I have a roof over my head and I get to stay in the place where my heart is.”

As part of The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), issued an allocation of 128 Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) to the Cambridge Housing Authority in FY-2021. These EHVs are tenant-based vouchers that have limited eligibility to individuals and families who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness; or fleeing or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking; or recently homeless and for whom providing rental assistance will prevent the family’s homelessness, or having high risk of housing instability and referred by the Cambridge Continuum of Care.

The CHA, in partnership with the Cambridge Continuum of Care partners, have been able to assist more than 100 households so far with securing permanent, safe and affordable housing. The agency anticipates the remaining vouchers, which have been issued, will be leased up later in 2023.

“Being able to receive the EHV was a total lifesaver,” said McDowell’s case worker, Sylvia Kelly. “Richard was very responsive to all the work needed to secure the voucher and housing, he never missed an appointment, and was always ready to do whatever was required. We were able to work in concert with Walden Square Apartments and CHA to ensure he would have a place to live in where he could bring his dog and live in peace. He signed his lease and moved in the same day.”

“Through CHA’s quick work and understanding, this process was made easy for Richard.” Kelly added proudly.

In a short span, McDowell was able to turn a period of uncertainty and doubt into a winning situation. He is an avid Boston sports fan, family oriented, and a dog lover. The Cambridge Housing Authority’s EHV was able to keep him in the hub of all the things that are meaningful for him and supportive. 

CHA’s Leased Housing programs serve over 2000 low-income family, elderly and disabled households at an annual cost of approximately $34 million. The Leased Housing Department administers the federal Housing Choice Voucher program (often referred to as “Section 8”), the federal Project Based Assistance program (PBA), the federal Single Room Occupancy program (SRO), the state Alternative Housing Voucher program (AHVP) and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher program (MRVP).

The Leased Housing Department also administers the Sponsor Based Voucher program, a special program designed by CHA to help local service providers offer shelter and supportive services to hard to house individuals not typically served by traditional subsidized housing programs.