By Edith Morgan
The times are always changing, and what was a great solution to a social problem several decades ago is no longer working as it once did: public housing.
The idea of affordable public housing worked so well to house returning World War II veterans and their families. Worcester vets and their families called our Great Brook Valley the first rung up the American ladder of upward mobility.
That has all changed. It has run its course and public housing needs to be something else, something more, as the population to be served has changed. Economic conditions, immigration, age of those in need of housing, more persons with disabilities living on their own, and the difficulty of getting jobs and keeping homes after the disastrous crash in 2008 which deprived many young (and not so young) families of their homes – all these factors changed the clientele of public housing. These changes require a new set of rules.
But established bureaucracies are not known for their flexibility, nor for their ability to change to meet new conditions.
So it was that it took a long time to become aware that many among our current public housing residents did not share the same values held formerly by most of us. Worcester Housing Authority Executive Director Raymond Mariano is fond of telling us his own family started out in Great Brook Valley and worked their way up and out – as was expected in those days. And while my family never lived in public housing in the U.S., when we came to America, I remember my mother saying she never wanted to be on welfare ever again.
Unfortunately, in the recent decades, we have seen a growing number of residents in public housing make little or no effort to take advantage of the opportunities offered by education, work, or good money-management techniques.
It is this group that Ray Mariano wants to help, with his “Better Life” program. The elderly and the disabled will still be eligible for public housing for as long as they need it, but those who can finish school, acquire training and become self-sufficient will be offered a path to eventual integration into the larger society to become PRODUCTIVE AMERICANS.
This week, finally, after a disappointing setback, at a ceremony attended by state officials who lauded his ideas, Mariano got the go-ahead and will be able to implement his back to work/school program for nearly 400 Great Brook Valley families who should profit from this program.
The program’s requirements are not overwhelming: One adult in each of the targeted households will have to work and/ or go to school for a total of 1,200 hours per year, or about 23 hours per week. There will be many kinds of support services available, and “anyone who is making the effort will stay,” according to Mariano.
Of course, refusal to meet these standards will result in “lease enforcement.” (A nice way to say eviction.)
There is still no time limit for GBV residents, but this program should be a good step toward solving the problem of multi-generational residency in public housing. It will also satisfy those folks who remember that public housing, which is still a great idea, was never intended to last for generations but was meant to extend a helping hand to those who were struggling, new or had suffered some great setback.
I can not agree that “public housing has been a great failure.” It continues to provide so many people with a safe, affordable roof over their heads, as they get on their feet and face a tough world. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water …