Boston homeless family earns too much for subsidized apartment

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 15 Feb 1998 11:31:13 -0800 (PST)


WHAT'S A FAMILY SUPPOSED TO DO?

By Mike Barnicle, Boston Globe Staff, 02/03/98


Meet Mayfern Hydes. She is a 33-year-old mother of five who, along with her
hard-working husband, Joshua, is homeless this morning because of a fire.

However, the fire had more logic than the bureaucracy that continues to
keep the Hydes from finding a place to live. The family is being penalized
because they are not on welfare and Joshua Hydes makes too much as a
meat-cutter to qualify for a subsidized apartment.

The fire roared through their old place, a three-bedroom unit in Dorchester
on Jan. 5. The Hydes had no insurance, lost everything, but were thrilled
simply to be alive.

That night they moved in with Mayfern's mother. They've been there ever
since: Eight people crammed into a clean, well-kept one-bedroom unit where
the kids sleep on the living room floor and two couches while Mayfern and
Joshua use the hallway.

''The kids all got flu since we've been here,'' Mayfern was saying
yesterday. ''And their backs hurt all the time, too.''

The children range in age from 14 to 4 - 4 girls, 1 boy. The family came to
America in 1989 from Honduras. They did not come to partake of the
country's traditionally abused hand-out, welfare. They arrived ready to
work.

''But to get a new place, everybody tells us to go on public assistance.
They say my husband is over the limit for a family of seven,'' his wife
said. ''At Boston Housing, one of the clerks told me, `Tell your husband to
cut back his hours and not work so hard so you qualify.'''

The qualifying income level for families looking for subsidized housing has
gone unchanged since 1986. Today, you have to be a total bust-out living
well below the poverty line to get an apartment. Certainly, if you take
home $454 a week cutting lamb chops, that's too much.

''The lady at DTA [Department of Transitional Assistance] told me a family
of seven can't make more than $1676.10 a month. We can't get an apartment;
we can't even get in a shelter.''

Yesterday morning, Mayfern Hydes continued her struggle to keep her family
together in an affordable apartment. She had the real estate section of the
paper, but nearly every landlord wants a first month's rent combined with a
last month's rent plus a security deposit. That's about $1,500 when you're
in the market for a three-bedroom unit.

''Somebody told me to look in Lynn,'' she said. ''But my husband doesn't
drive and that's too far from his job and we would have to change schools
with the kids. It's hard.''

In her mother's living room, there were blankets and pillows stuffed
beneath one couch. A computer, black with smoke damage, sat on an end
table. Shoes and clothes were piled neatly in the hallway. This was home
for eight.

Mayfern Hydes keeps her records in a green file folder. She has phone
numbers for every social service agency, city department, and private group
that might be able to help. She calls all day, every day, and when she is
not on the phone she is on the train downtown to Boston Housing.

''I cannot even get to see anyone in charge,'' she was saying. ''They tell
me they're all too busy to see me. I say, `If I come down, can I see
somebody?' and they say, `No. You have to make an appointment.' But when I
ask to make an appointment, there is nobody to talk to. How can I make an
appointment with somebody if no one will talk to me?

''I filled out an application for emergency housing. They told me I'm 34th
on the waiting list. They said someone would call in 10 days. That was
three weeks ago.''

Her husband did his part: Cut his overtime in an effort to earn less money,
but still emerged $65 over the limit.

''Let's see,'' Mayfern Hydes said, checking her list yesterday. ''I called
the Red Cross. They couldn't help. The mayor's office. They couldn't help.
Traveler's Aid. Nope. Mayor's Office for Shelters. No luck.
Family-to-Family. Nothing. Salvation Army. They couldn't help. I've called
17 places.

''The lady at the shelter commission told me she could find a place for me
and my daughters, but my husband and son could not come with us. I told her
the fire happened to all of us.''

They lost everything in a fire although the blaze clearly failed to destroy
their sense of family along with a faith in the value of hard work and a
good education. But the bureaucracy - incompetent, slow-moving and blind to
true need - is sure doing what it can to burn down any hope Mayfern Hydes,
her husband, and her kids have of finding a home without turning themselves
into cheats or complete welfare cases.

[This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 02/03/98.]

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