Massachusetts poor in worse shape: HOME Coalition report FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 5 May 1998 00:29:31 -0700 (PDT)


  Telegram & Gazette Worcester, MA
  Wed, Apr 15 1998

BOSTON - Despite the booming economy, the poorest residents the
Bay State are in worse shape today than they were during the deep
economic recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s because of the
scarcity of public housing and escalating rents in the private market,
Theresa Mason, research director of the Massachusetts Home
Coalition, declared yesterday.

Mason said that conclusion is based on a just-released study of the
plight of the poor in Worcester, Lowell, New Bedford and Boston
that was undertaken by the coalition of public housing advocates.

According to the study:

To obtain adequate housing, Worcester renters must earn at least
$13.63 per hour, more than 2 1/2 times the minimum hourly wage,
or pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent.

Forty-seven percent of those renters cannot afford a two-bedroom
apartment at market rates without sacrificing other basic necessities
such as adequate food, clothing and health care.

With children making up 38 percent of those living below the federal
poverty line in Worcester, the number of students qualifying for free
or reduced-price school lunches has risen from 40 percent in 1988 to
more than 50 percent.

The average income of Worcester families living in public housing,
most of them headed by welfare mothers, is $8,400.

By last October, there were 2,348 applicants, 1,668 of them
families, on the waiting list for apartments in Worcester's public
housing projects, and 2,000 on the waiting list for apartments at two
of the city's largest privately owned, but publicly subsidized
housing developments.

An average of 780 homeless men, women and children sleep each
night in one of Worcester's 26 homeless shelters.

In 14 public schools in Worcester, 45 percent of the students were
unable to complete a full year at the same school because their
parents moved outside the school district.

The plight of families being forced off welfare is particularly severe,
Mason said.

A section of the report titled "Voices from the Edge" tells of a
conversation a "single mother of three" from Worcester had with
representative of the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance. The
woman is quoted as saying:

"When I told my welfare case worker I got a job as a nurse's aide
she congratulated me and said she wished more women were like

"I get $8.96 an hour. I work the night shift.

"I still have my job but I got a 48-hour notice from the sheriff for
not paying all my rent.

"My employer referred me to you.

"I need shelter but I don't want to leave my kids in the shelter at
night and I don't want to quit my job.

The report said the state Department of Transitional Assistance
claims the falling welfare case load demonstrates the new law
limiting public assistance for welfare mothers to two years in any
five-year period is working. According to the report, however, the
agency has "no way of knowing if this is indeed the case, given
their failure to conduct an evaluation study as to how women who
have left the rolls actually are faring."

"While finding some kind of job is within the realm of possibility
for many welfare recipients, it is extremely difficult to balance job
demands and children's needs - not to mention paying rent and other
bills - on a minimum wage salary," the report notes.


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