Healey files emergency shelter system regulations hours before court hearing

The state housing department filed proposed regulations this morning that lay out how state officials can place a cap on the number of families in the emergency shelter system only hours before a court hearing on the matter.

The regulations were filed with Secretary of State William Galvin’s office by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, according to a Galvin spokesperson.

The proposed update adds a new section to emergency shelter regulations that details what would happen if the “shelter system is unable to serve all eligible families,” according to a copy provided to the Herald.

The suggested rules change call for a “written declaration” that “in light of legislative appropriations, the shelter system is no longer able to meet all current and projected demand for shelter from eligible families considering the facts and circumstances then existing in the commonwealth.”

The declaration would need to identify a maximum program emergency shelter system capacity “which the director (the secretary) determines the shelter system can attain and that the shelter system shall not be required to exceed during the term of the declaration.”

“The declaration shall have an initial time limit of 120 days after it is issued but may be extended for additional periods of up to 120 days if the Director (the Secretary) determines that the shelter system is still unable to meet all current and projected demand for shelter from eligible families in light of legislative appropriations,” the proposed regulations said.

The regulations also outline the process of administering and maintaining a waitlist for families looking to access emergency shelter.

The Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities filed the regulations only hours before lawyers were scheduled to attend a court hearing where a judge could rule on a request to temporarily pause a plan to limit capacity in the emergency shelter system.

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit last week and requested a preliminary injunction on the self-imposed emergency shelter capacity limit, a move that riled homeless and housing advocates who say it will force some families to live outside as colder weather sets in.

But Healey and the state’s housing department argue Massachusetts has neither the funds, capacity, nor personnel to keep expanding the emergency shelter system through a sweeping network of hotels and motels. State officials projected capacity could be reached as early as Wednesday.

During a radio interview, Healey said her administration filed emergency regulations Wednesday pertaining to the waitlist and emergency shelter operations, an apparent move to combat arguments from Lawyers for Civil Rights who said the state did not follow proper procedures to change emergency shelter rules.

“I continue to call for relief from the federal government. We need help with staffing. We need help with funding. And again, it’s a federal problem that we’re having to deal with as states,” Healey said on WBUR.

Some shelter providers have backed the emergency shelter cap, saying a system designed to handle about 3,000 families each year has been pushed to its limits by a surge of migrant arrivals from other counties.

Healey said earlier this month the shelter system can handle no more than 7,500 families, and those who apply for temporary housing after the cap is reached will be placed on a waitlist. She has petitioned the Legislature for an extra $250 million for the emergency shelter system, a request House lawmakers have put on hold as they seek more data.

This is a developing story…

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