I can’t say that I was the least bit surprised when I read Shawn Musgrave’s article on Boston public housing and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). I’ve always had issues with them, starting with how they operate their low-income housing program known as Section 8. I have known people who, for whatever reasons, have been on those waiting lists for years. Why is the wait so long? In all my years as an advocate I’ve never gotten a straight answer from HUD. People are usually denied housing because they’ve broken the law, but in most cases it was years ago. I once knew a guy who was busted and did time for using drugs. After he got out, he turned his life around and got a great job, but for the next 10 years he couldn’t get housing of any kind. When I advocated for him, I couldn’t get a straight answer on why he kept getting denied. Had he not fallen in love and gotten married, he may still be on the street. That all happened before SPARE CHANGE NEWS, folks. Oh, and for those of you who live in constant fear of sex offenders living in your neighborhood, Level 3s have virtually no shot at housing.
The poor conditions of many housing developments and the lack of response to these conditions by housing authorities is not only a problem with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), but many others, as well. Complaints of roaches, bed bugs, and other pests, not to mention the squalid conditions that many of these buildings are in, come as no surprise. Section 8 housing has its problems, as well. Many of the landlords that accept tenants with vouchers are nothing more than slumlords who do just enough to get approved.
The process for obtaining Section 8 housing (that is, once you get approved) is quite simple. First, the client goes out to find an apartment ( this often means going further away from the city than you should have to, because most landlords in Boston and Cambridge refuse to take Section 8, even though that’s supposed to be against the law). After the client finds an apartment, the housing authority that issued the applicant’s certificate comes out and inspects the place. If it’s deemed suitable, the client moves in. If not, the search continues. In most cases, you have 90 days to find a place. However it is well-known that some shady deals are made between landlords and housing authority employees to pass inspections, regardless of the condition of the apartment (Chelsea, anyone?). Yearly inspections are passed falsely, as well. I know of apartments with faulty smoke detectors, broken stoves or refrigerators, expired carbon monoxide alarms, etc. Clients complain, but to no avail.
There are also housing employees that make shady side deals to get more money from clients. While I was President of the Homeless Empowerment Project (HEP), one of our vendors who also did volunteer work for us had just got her own place, and felt her caseworker was charging her more money for her rent than need be. One day, she had to drop off a letter for her caseworker, but couldn’t make it, so I took it down for her. When I got to this housing authority, her caseworker happened to be at the desk. She instantly recognized me, said hello, and said she didn’t know the woman volunteered for us. The following week the woman received a letter stating that they had made a mistake and that her rent had been corrected. I’ve also known people who have been evicted for petty reasons, when the real reason was that they spoke out against their landlords. And how do they get away with some of this stuff? Well, boys and girls, it’s pretty simple: the system is broken, and there is no real accountability to be found. Not at HUD, not at the state level. None. How else would the execute director of the Chelsea Housing Authority and his cronies be able to get away with what they were doing for years? Believe me, they’re not the only ones. As for HUD, who should be overseeing the housing authorities, they seem to be more into playing politics than establishing accountability. Seems like working for HUD is more about havinga stepping stone to a higher office than it is about helping people (Cuomo, anyone?). Hopefully, we’ll get some answers and find out who the real roaches are soon.
Editor: Catherine Martin
Editor 2: Ben Potrykus