BOSTON — An expanded homelessness prevention program continued to grow in fiscal year 2019, with households that fit the new definition now comprising close to a third of those aided in the greater Boston region, according to a new report.

Metro Housing|Boston, which administers the Residential Assistance for Families Program (RAFT) to help very low-income families facing housing crises in Boston and 28 surrounding communities, wrote in a report released on Tuesday that it assisted 525 clients meeting the broader qualifications last fiscal year.

That number is a nearly tenfold increase from the 60 households Metro Housing assisted in fiscal year 2017, the first year the state offered a pilot expanding eligibility to all households that earn 50% or less of the area median income rather than those that also have a dependent younger than 21.

Massachusetts allocated $20 million toward the program in fiscal 2019, about $3 million of which went toward aiding those who met the broader requirements. The expansion pilot program was allocated $400,000 in funding when it was launched three years ago.

Households in greater Boston helped by the expanded definition tended to be older, whiter, and poorer than those that fit the traditional definition, according to the report. Male heads of household were more common as well, and they also slightly more frequently needed help with overdue housing payments.

Last fiscal year, Metro Housing also provided RAFT aid to 1,185 clients who meet the traditional eligibility definition.

Under the RAFT program, eligible households can apply for up to $4,000 in emergency aid to help pay arrearage, security deposits, first- or last-month rent costs and more aimed at preventing homelessness.

To qualify, households must earn 50% or less of the area median income. That figure in the metro Boston area was $53,350 for a family of three in FY19, according to the report.

State lawmakers have steadily increased funding for the RAFT program over the past seven years. After significant cuts in the wake of the Great Recession, the total budgeted amount for the program has jumped from $8.7 million in fiscal year 2013 to $21 million in fiscal year 2020.

By spending on aid, the state saved money it would have spent on emergency shelter assistance, authors wrote. In Metro Housing's region alone, they said, the total cost of RAFT funding was about $4.4 million compared to an estimated $33 million required if the hundreds of families helped became homeless.

"This proactive approach makes significant fiscal sense for the Commonwealth as well," authors wrote in Metro Housing's report. "RAFT lets families stay in their homes, helps them move out of homelessness into new homes, keeps utilities on, and provides stability. Boston is one of the top five most expensive cities to live in in the United States, making it extremely difficult for families to afford their rent and other associated costs."

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