Major League Baseball announced Thursday that its team owners will provide housing to nearly all minor league players starting with the 2022 season, a response to advocacy on behalf of prospects who often are forced to live in relative poverty as they pursue their big league dreams.

The new policy applies to all minor leaguers except those who have major league contracts and those who have six-figure minor league contracts. According to MLB, it will cover more than 90 percent of minor league players.

“This step forward recognizes that the unprecedented nature of the past two years has further exacerbated affordable housing challenges across the country that existed before the pandemic,” Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said in a statement. “The owners are confident that this investment will help ensure that Minor League players have every opportunity to achieve their dreams of becoming Major Leaguers.”

The housing in question must be furnished and “located at a reasonable, commutable distance from the ballpark,” MLB’s announcement said. Each player will get his own bed, no more than two players will share a bedroom, and team owners will pay utilities. If apartments, rental homes or host families are not an option, hotel rooms that satisfy the standards — the housing must feature a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and a shared living space — can be used.

According to a memo sent from MLB to team owners that was obtained by Baseball America, minor league players no longer will sign leases or utility agreements; those will now be the responsibility of the major league teams. This is seen as a crucial change because minor league players often lost money if they switched levels and had to break a lease.

The coronavirus pandemic cast a spotlight on the economic plight of most minor league players, who went more than a year without pay after the 2020 season was shut down. Because minor leaguers have no players’ union, advocacy groups such as Advocates for Minor Leaguers and More Than Baseball gave voice to the players’ troubles.

Last month, after reports surfaced that MLB probably would approve the minor league housing measure, Advocates for Minor Leaguers called it a “historic victory” for players at the lower levels of professional baseball.

Such groups now are focused on improving pay for minor leaguers, many of whom make less than minimum wage and are forced to take on second and third jobs during the offseason, when they are not paid. MLB has promised pay increases of 38 to 72 percent for minor leaguers along with reduced travel and better team facilities, but it has accomplished these measures in part by cutting 40 affiliates, which critics say makes it even harder for minor leaguers to advance toward the big leagues.