Homeless families face housing crisis in Massachusetts FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 17 May 1999 05:04:27 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Boston Globe EDITORIAL - April 18, 1999 - page D06


Homeless families in Massachusetts need leaders - from the Cellucci
administration and the State House - to guide them out of a crisis.

Crowded state shelters are overflowing, and even during warm weather there
can be a high demand. In March, family shelters only had an average of four
to five vacancies. On Tuesday, March 30, no room was available. And
Travelers Aid, which typically provides hotel rooms to three or four
homeless families, is now strained in serving 25 families.

During the rest of the year, many families can't access the state shelter
system - run by the Department of Transitional Assistance - because of
overly tough eligibility rules. A mother with two children, for example,
can only earn up to $1,071 a month, about $12,850 a year. That's less than
the federal poverty level, $13,880 for a family of three. And
distressingly, DTA has proposed making non-income eligibility rules even

A wise but limited solution is to change the rules, in place since 1986.
Increasing the eligibility level to 130 percent of the federal poverty
figure - about $18,000 for a mother and two children - would help. To do
this, DTA would have to add to its current 795 units. Next month, 15 units
will be added. And this, DTA says, is all the growth its current vendors
can provide. Advocates say more growth can occur through scattered site
programs that put families in apartment units.

Cost estimates vary. The state says that a 130 percent qualifying level
would cost $13 million; advocates say it would be $5.5 million. Either way,
DTA should see if surplus welfare block grant funds - the result of
dropping welfare rolls - or other money could be tapped.

The long-run need is for more affordable housing. Here, DTA defers to the
state Department of Housing and Community Development, which points to the
thousands of affordable units it has helped supply each year since 1991.

Last year the Senate approved the 130 percent qualifying level. But the
full Legislature didn't. So there's still a need for leaders to handle the
shelter emergency and the long-term housing need.

[This story ran on page D06 of the Boston Globe on 04/18/99.]


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