41°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Sectioned Out

A future UMass Boston student sits in on a panel on the housing crunch. - Photo by Carl Brooks
A future UMass Boston student sits in on a panel on the housing crunch. – Photo by Carl Brooks

A collection of determined survivors of the Massachusetts housing crunch met last Wednesday to share stories and offer solutions.

The Student Advocate Network Against Homelessness (SANAH) is part of a group called One Family, which enlists the aid of college students from across the state and promotes its cause to the demographic of young voters, ages 18-24. Last week, SANAH brought the group’s agenda to UMB as part of an open forum on homelessness.

Organizer Susan Brown spoke about changes to federal and state subsidies that are making it harder and harder for families on the edge to get housing, “The numbers are pretty scary,” she said, citing the figure of eight thousand families in shelters across Massachusetts. Often, families are moved to motels when the shelters overflow. “Imagine living in a motel with a kid, with kids, a tiny kitchen, limited facilities, and no way to get to work.” She also said that housing a family in a motel can cost the state $30,000 per year, and rental subsidies cost only $18,000.

Maria Blanco, a UMass Boston student, told of her struggles to find housing for herself and her daughter, calling herself a victim of “housing insecurity.” She said, “I started having problems with housing when I got pregnant with my daughter, five years ago.”

She detailed her struggles with tenuous leases and sublets and the struggle to find reliable roommates around whom she could raise a child. She said, “I find it really frustrating. I’ve tried to save money, I’ve tried to get on the affordable housing lotteries, but it’s really hard.” Blanco, who works on campus, stays with her family on weekends and lives with her daughter’s father during the week.

SANAH is working with One Family on a new campaign to lobby for more federal housing subsidies. The new campaign, called Every Child Deserves a Home, is starting an e-postcard campaign from its website, www.everychildahome.org.

The federally funded program of housing subsidies to low-income families, known to most as Section 8, serves more than 70,000 households in the state of Massachusetts. These families receive government assistance, which pays as much as 70% of their monthly rent. Under the current system, state housing authorities must provide 75% of the Section 8 vouchers they receive to families that earn 30% or less of their area’s median income.

However, a recent Bush Administration initiative may leave as many as 8,620 families in Massachusetts literally out in the cold through budget cuts and de-regulation of provisions. The plan, proposed as part of the budget for the 2005 fiscal year, cuts the total funding for Section 8 by over $1 billion, cutting off completely nearly a quarter of a million families currently in the program, and a diminishment in funds, estimated to average $800 per household, for the rest of the beneficiaries. The plan would also eliminate the targeting requirements of the current program that serve extremely low-income households, instead allowing Public Housing Authorities to set their own rules for distributing funds.

These cuts will be felt most profoundly by “the poorest of the poor,” according to Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership Director Julia Kehoe. These are households that take in an annual income of $11,000 or less-the average for Section 8 recipients. The distribution of vouchers has already been halted by the state, though there are approximately 48,000 households currently on the waiting list to receive them. MBHP representatives argue that the fallout of the proposed curtailing of funds will make it extremely difficult for many families to pay for existing housing, while shutting the door on currently homeless individuals who may only receive permanent housing with the help of Section 8. This combination will ultimately lead to a large swelling of the state’s homeless population.

One Family was created with the goal of ending family homelessness by raising public awareness of the problem and by turning it into a key issue in national, state and local politics. The group has endorsed a large-scale letter-writing campaign that provides a template for those interested in combating family homelessness by writing to state legislators, urging them to strike down the proposed cuts.