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Rep. Frank honored by housing activists

Sandra Larson | 12/21/2010, 6:30 p.m.
Vows to keep fighting even in new conservative CongressCongressman Barney Frank was honored by the Massachusetts Alliance...
Congressman Barney Frank was honored by the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT) on Dec. 16. Frank could not attend, but addressed the crowd from Washington, D.C. by cell phone while organizers projected a still photo of him. Pictured here (from l to r) are: Michael Kane, MAHT executive director; William Pryor, president of MAHT’s board; Andrew Bettinelli, special assistant to Congressman Frank. Sandra Larson

Massachusetts alone has lost more than 6,555 federally subsidized housing units since 1996 as HUD subsidies have expired, and another 19,000 units statewide could be lost through 2012, according to MAHT Executive Director Michael Kane, who is also executive director of NAHT.

When it became clear Frank’s housing bill was unlikely to pass this year, NAHT proposed a $25 million amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2011. The amendment includes a provision to protect tenants from displacement after HUD contract expiration by making more tenants eligible for the “enhanced vouchers” that help pay the increased rent.

But the fate of even that amendment was unclear. The appropriations bill was held up last week, under fire by Republicans for its “earmark” spending proposals by legislators favoring projects in their home states. Both Frank and MAHT members said they believe achieving tenant-friendly housing legislation will be substantially harder in the new, more conservative Congress to be sworn in on Jan. 3.

The proposed amendment has immediate urgency for MAHT. At Georgetowne Homes in West Roxbury, Kane said, 286 families could see their rents increase by hundreds of dollars as early as April 2011 if the tenants do not become eligible for enhanced vouchers.

Despite gloom over the new Congress and uncertainty over the appropriations bill, the tone of the holiday party remained positive. Kane announced that Sen. Scott Brown had recently sent a requested letter of support for the housing amendment to other senators, and said MAHT is working to arrange a meeting with Brown at Georgetowne Homes.

Kane and others told stories of Frank’s support over the years and the victories obtained with his help, including the Boston Housing Partnership II launched in the late 1980s that saved 925 affordable units in Boston.

Nonetheless, Frank closed his cell phone call on a rueful note.

“I’m very sorry I can’t be there with you — folks with whom I share the greatest and deepest values,” he told the group.

“I am regretful that we’re not going to be able to make the progress I had hoped,” he added, “but we’re going to keep fighting and keep working for people to have a decent home whether it’s something they own, whether it’s something they rent, whether it’s public, or what. We’re not giving up.”