Federal fix needed in city housing rule

On Wednesday, the Boston City Council gave its unanimous approval to a Boston Housing Authority (BHA) plan to seek federal permission to change the way it distributes housing units to senior citizens and disabled adults in the 36 elder/disabled apartment buildings owned by the city.

The change would alter the formula now used to assign seniors or disabled, non-elderly people to units as they open up in BHA apartment buildings.

The BHA is required to submit a so-called “Designated Housing Plan” to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrators in Washington, D.C. for their approval. Currently, the BHA is mandated to keep a ratio of 70 percent elderly to 30 percent non-elderly disabled in their developments.

William McGonagle, the BHA’s administrator, has proposed changing that formula to 80 percent elderly- 20 percent non-elderly disabled. To offset the loss of non-elderly disabled units inside those buildings, McGonagle proposes giving Section 8 vouchers to non-elderly-disabled residents to secure private housing.

The BHA will submit its plan to HUD in the coming weeks, but there is no guarantee that it will be approved. In fact, on two previous occasions, the last one in 2007, attempts to change the ratio have been rejected by HUD. This time, we hope HUD officials and our elected leaders in Washington will see things differently.

Boston’s population is aging rapidly and its demographics have changed dramatically since the last change in the HUD formula, back in 1999. The 2010 census documented an 11 percent increase in Bostonians age 60 and over. That figure is projected to rise even further by 2020. City officials estimate that 90 percent of new demand for housing in these BHA units will come from elderly residents over the next nine years. Meanwhile, the BHA says that the proportion of non-elderly disabled applicants has declined by 14.5 percent.

In our view, the change to an 80-20 ratio will also ease the negative impacts of mixing these two distinct populations within the BHA developments, a federal requirement that city officials would otherwise seek to change on their own. They cannot. But they can pursue reducing the impact on the aging population by creating a “more manageable ratio that will help minimize lifestyle differences.”

This change would bring Boston’s public housing system into synch with other cities across the nation and close to home. Cambridge, for instance, has an 87.5-13.5 percent ratio; Brookline is currently set at 80-20. It is time for federal administrators to allow our city’s administrators to change its formula to respond to the needs of the Boston of 2015.
– Bill Forry

A note to our subscribers
We have had numerous reports in the last week about a serious delay in the home delivery of the Feb. 19 edition of the Dorchester Reporter, especially in the 02124 zip code. The Reporter was published last week at our normal time and delivered to the USPS for distribution. We have made inquiries to the USPS to determine what caused the delay. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our readers.
– BF