EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 3, 2014

Editorial: Appeals Court ruling makes a victim of taxpayers

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The state Appeals Court last week ruled the Boston Housing Authority couldn’t revoke the Section 8 housing voucher of tenant Melvin Furtick, who missed two meetings with the authority because he was in jail after assaulting and threatening his wife.

It’s the latest in a series of higher court rulings that leave regular citizens scratching their heads. Who knew that “I was in jail” could be added to the list of excuses when one misses a meeting or a deadline?

Furtick, now 64, had been living at Loring Towers in Salem, Mass., before heading to jail in 2011. He missed BHA appointments in November and December of 2011, and didn’t receive notices of proceedings to terminate his Section 8 voucher. He wasn’t out of town on business. He wasn’t visiting relatives. He was behind bars.

In the eyes of the Appeals Court, however, Furtick is the victim.

“The Boston Housing Authority terminated Furtick’s housing assistance benefits, a protected property interest, in violation of his due process rights,” Justice Frederick Brown wrote in a decision released last week. “Such a result cannot be coutenanced by any court of law.” The ruling upheld a similarly baffling decision by the state Housing Court.

In the Appeals Court decision, Brown went so far as to suggest the BHA was “in a rush to recapture Furtick’s Section 8 voucher” and a said the authority had “lost sight of its mission.”

Wrong. The BHA may be the only party in this embarrassing mess with a clear head. There is a waiting list of tens of thousands of people hoping to get a Section 8 voucher, the federally funded subsidy for low-income tenants.

So many people are trying to get a voucher, BHA spokeswoman Lydia Agro told reporter Julie Manganis, that the waiting list was cut off in 2008 “due to lack of funding and inability to issue sufficient vouchers to meet the demand.”

Homelessness is a well-documented crisis in the state and on the North Shore – just ask the families forced to live for weeks at a time in hotels in Danvers, or the town officials who struggle to find money to deal with the additional strain on the municipal budget. The BHA and other organizations should be praised for trying to get scant resources to people who need them most.

One wonders how far the Appeals Court expected the BHA to go to track down and meet with Furtick. Most recipients of federal and state aid are expected to participate in keeping their affairs in order.

The Appeals Court was quick to jump to Furtick’s defense, labeling him as a “physically disabled, mentally ill senior citizen” diagnosed with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Furtick was, however, found competent to stand trial in 2011 for the assault on his wife.

That incident was not the first for Furtick. His wife told police that he shot her in 1969. In 1970, he blew up their home, leading to seven years in the prison now known as MCI-Concord. In 2011, according to police, he told his wife, “I shot you once, and I blew the house up, and the third time will be a charm.”

It comes down to this: The Appeals Court is forcing taxpayers to subsidize the housing of a felon who has served time for blowing up a house and who couldn’t keep an appointment because he was in jail.

It’s not the BHA that has lost sight of its mission.