Credit: Courtesy Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

A group of public housing advocates pressing for a range of measures to ease the state housing crisis will make its case to Needham-based lawmakers Sen. Rebecca Rausch and Rep. Denise Garlick at a public meeting on Feb. 13 at Temple Beth Shalom. 

This event is one of a series of “in-district” meetings with state lawmakers on their home turf being organized by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, a group of 58 congregations and institutions it says represents more than 100,000 individuals.  Several meetings have already been held in the Boston area, and “for the most part,” said Magda Schmalz, a Temple Beth Shalom member who is helping to organize the Needham event, lawmakers have supported the group’s proposals.

They can’t agree 100% at this time to commit their support, Schmalz said, “But they agree with the idea of supporting housing.”

The GBIO is asking lawmakers to back several measures aimed at addressing what it calls the state’s housing crisis:

  • At least $1.6 billion for public housing in the five-year housing bond bill (the Affordable Homes Act) proposed by Governor Maura Healey. “The true need is $8.5 billion,” Schmalz said. “but $1.6 billion would be a win.”
  • At least $189 million in the fiscal year 2025 operating budget for public housing.
  • A requirement that prisons and jails issue identification cards to people before they are released. Lack of an ID card can be a barrier to obtaining a job or housing.
  • $9 million for rental assistance for those transitioning from incarceration. That’s $6 million more than what’s proposed in the fiscal 2025 budget.

In addition to being able to engage directly with Rausch and Garlick, attendees will hear from speakers who will share their lived experience of dealing with issues of  public housing, affordable rental and homeownership and re-entry into society by those previously incarcerated.

Among the scheduled speakers is Sean Ellis, the Boston man who served nearly 22 years in prison for the murder of a Boston police detective before his conviction was overturned. Ellis, who attended Needham schools through the METCO program, was the subject of a Netflix docuseries. He received a $16 million settlement from the city, according to the Boston Globe, and now advocates for prison reform and the needs of others who were wrongly imprisoned.

Schmalz attended an in-district meeting this week in Newton. She said she was impressed by the personal stories she heard. “The lawmakers said being able to put faces to what people were asking for was powerful.”

Schmalz said the goal is to attract 80-100 people at the Temple Beth Shalom event. Members of other faith communities have reached out, so she hopes as many as 150 might come.

“Housing is among the most challenging and pressing issues for our communities and our Commonwealth,” Rausch told the Observer in an email. “I look forward to discussing these issues with my constituents.”

The meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13 from 7:15 p.m.-8:45 p.m. at Temple Beth Shalom, 670 Highland Ave. To register, visit bit.ly/gbioidmrausch.

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