Dec 8, 2022 - News

Seeking solutions to address migrant housing crisis

Boston City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune holds a hearing on migrants in the chambers at City Hall.

Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who this week held a hearing on the influx of migrants that have recently arrived in Boston, tells Axios the area needs state and federal help to address the needs of the new arrivals and the nonprofits serving them.

Catch up fast: At the Monday hearing, Boston-area advocates said they're taking in hundreds of people each month from Haiti and Central and South America, and the biggest need is housing.

Why it matters: Massachusetts is a “right-to-shelter” state, meaning officials have an obligation to house new arrivals and anyone experiencing homelessness.

  • But with the state’s emergency housing program at capacity, nonprofits and individuals have been getting creative about how to get migrants a place to sleep at night.
  • City Councilor Julia Mejia, who was at the hearing, said constituents have migrants sleeping in church basements.
  • Norieliz DeJesus, an organizer at La Colaborativa in Chelsea, says locals are letting new arrivals sleep in their living rooms, risking housing violations.

Details: Louijeune, who chairs the council’s civil rights and immigrant advancement committee, said she helped secure $1.1 million in the city’s American Rescue Plan funds to house migrants.

  • About $330,000 is going to the Immigrant Family Services Institute in Mattapan this week to help Haitian newcomers obtain housing, said Danielle Johnson, deputy director of the Office of Housing Stability.

Louijeune sees two other opportunities to respond to the influx of newcomers: the upcoming city budget and the proposed $139 million supplemental budget proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

  • Baker proposed allotting $130 million of the funding to expand housing capacity in response to the arrival of migrants.
  • Federal immigration officials also need to speed up the process for approving work permits for parolees, asylum seekers and others with temporary protections, Louijeune and advocates say. “We have people who want to work, and there’s just been this backlog,” Louijeune says.

Meanwhile, the Baker administration is focusing on building a centralized intake center in Devens that officials say will offer wraparound services for new arrivals.

Louijeune says one of the next steps could be expanding the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Advancement’s capacity to hold more English Language Learner classes with multilingual, culturally competent instructors, and to ensure other city offices serving migrants are informing them about various resources.

  • City Councilor Tania Anderson recommended earlier this week that MOIA’s next hire include someone who speaks Cape Verdean Creole and/or Haitian Creole. The office, which is hiring, currently has no one who speaks either.

City and school officials also need more classrooms for SLIFE, or students with limited or interrupted formal education., Louijeune says.

  • The classrooms cater to students who face not only learning gaps, but trauma, including those who fled their homes and crossed borders reaching Boston.

Go deeper: Where new arrivals are going


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