Worcester housing market squeezing out the poor
On Aug 28, the nonprofit RCAP Solutions, which generates about $32 million in annual revenue, opened its new headquarters at 191 May St. in Worcester, consolidating operations from its Gardner and Worcester offices. With the new office, Executive Vice President Bill Minkle said RCAP can work better and more efficiently.
How many clients do you see annually?
We see about 6,000 clients per year, all from the Worcester area. We can have as many as 100 per day come to this office.
About 2,800 are here for the rental assistance. For the rest, we provide services like housing counseling, housing search, workforce development, secure jobs and for those suffering from domestic violence. We want to help families become self sufficient.
We are multipurpose, with two divisions: the housing division and the community resources division, which we are renaming it the rural division. The rural program covers nine states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
And your clients numbers are growing?
Our numbers will fluctuate based on the economy. Our numbers are growing now because the rental market is really squeezing a lot of people out.
The rents are going crazy. They have gone up 10-20%. Every landlord is demanding increases. They can get it because the demand is very high.
How does RCAP help?
Our clients’ incomes are not going up to match the rents. That is what happens in a capitalistic society; there are winners and losers. It is unfortunate, but that is the way it works.
The displacement causes major trauma and problems in a person’s life. Many of our clients get evicted. That makes it difficult in rehousing them, too. That is why our RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) program is so important, because we can provide emergency assistance to prevent the eviction.
You are seeing it all over. Around Boston and inside Route 128, affordable housing is almost nonexistent. Even out here, there are not enough units.
Affordable housing is defined many, many ways; but if you look at minimum wage, where the original idea was that you could afford housing, there is no way you could pay for the rent on minimum wage. It is way out of alignment with today’s realities.
So, some things are a little upside down. People are really struggling.
Where do displaced people go?
You will be squeezed into a different neighborhood, and there is even a lack of housing in those neighbors. We look for clean, safe, affordable housing, and those units are evaporating.
Do they end up in outlying communities?
They really need to be in the city. One of the advantages to living in the city is being near public transportation. A lot of our folks can’t afford cars. They need public transportation, so they need affordable housing in the city.
A city really needs affordable housing for its labor supply, whether or not they want to admit it. I know people will say they don’t want affordable housing in their neighborhood, but the fact of the matter is there needs to be a mix of housing: low-, middle- and high-income housing. When the prices go up, the people at the bottom get pushed out.
Why did RCAP decide to move?
We decided to move about two and a half years ago. We started to outgrow the space in the Worcester office. It was no longer adequate for what we needed.
It is nice to have everything together under one roof. Once we opened this office, we realized it made more sense than we realized because of the accessibility for clients, with the parking lot and access to public transportation.
This is a fabulous new beginning for us. We are going to be able to serve more clients and in a better way.
How did you decide on 191 May St.?
We were fortunate to get this. Our clients have a hard time finding a home, and we had a hard time finding the right place. I probably looked at 60 properties.
When I first looked at this place, I thought it would be perfect, but I didn’t know if the timing would be right, because of how long it would take to move. But then our landlord – Chacharone Properties of Worcester – really worked with us. It has been more of a partnership, and they have been terrific to work with.
This interview was conducted and edited by WBJ Editor Brad Kane.