Voucher system 'out of control' Thursday, July 28, 2005
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- About one-third of the town's apartments are subsidized by either the state or federal government, Framingham Housing Authority's executive director told a group crafting a townwide housing plan last night.

William Casamento told the group, led by four members of the selectmen and Planning Board, that his organization has given out almost 800 Section 8 vouchers, with at least 270 of those vouchers used by people in other cities and towns.  About eight have taken them out of state.

More than 1,700 people are on Framingham's waiting list for vouchers, but only 60 of them are Framingham residents, said Casamento.  The town also has about 150 to 200 people obtain Section 8 vouchers elsewhere and use them in town, he said.

"I'm shocked at what I just heard," said Steve Orr, representing the Framingham Taxpayers Association.  "I would like to see our community be comprised of hard-working people.  It's a system that's out of control."

Orr wondered if most people who have the vouchers stay with them for life.  Casamento said many voucher users eventually find their way to affordable senior citizen units, but not all of them.

"There are people who are motivated (to get out)," he said.

Judith Barrett, the committee's consultant from Community Opportunities Group, expressed little surprise at Framingham's percentages.

"You have the infrastructure. You have the zoning," she said.

Steve Starr, a Housing Authority member who is part of the advisory group, took exception to Orr's characterization.

"It's not a fair comment that people who need help are not hard-working," said Starr.

Laura Medrano, executive director of the MetroWest Latin American Center, noted that the figures quoted by Casamento include senior citizens and people who are disabled.

Selectman Ginger Esty didn't like how Orr portrayed people who qualify for Section 8 vouchers, she said. The vouchers are available only to those who do not make a minimum annual income.

"I'm a little surprised at the assumption that's been made (by Orr), but I hear you," she said.

Casamento also talked about an initiative that gives developers a break if they include units that are permanently tied to Section 8 vouchers.  Some on the committee saw that as a way to keep the town's affordable stock high.

"When you do something like this, you're also getting the rehabilitation of an old building at the same time," said Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Ann Welles.

Esty saw the idea as a way to "balance the unfairness" that bans towns from counting people who have mobile Section 8 vouchers -- meaning they are not required to live in one town -- in its percentage of affordable units.

Disability Commission member Marilyn Cohen wondered if there was a way to tie the vouchers into eventual home ownership. Rich Shapiro, a local mortgage broker, said that's tough in Framingham.

"With the costs around here, that doesn't really work," he said.

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