SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 28, 2014

Court slams agency for revoking jailed man's housing

Waiting list for vouchers in 'tens of thousands'

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — When Melvin Furtick missed two scheduled meetings in 2011 to recertify his 30-year-old Section 8 housing voucher because he was in jail for assaulting and threatening his wife, the Boston Housing Authority began proceedings to take back the coveted certificate.

By the time Furtick, now 64, was paroled and returned to his Loring Towers apartment in Salem, the locks had been changed.

But yesterday, in a harshly worded decision, the state’s Appeals Court concluded that Furtick’s due process rights were ignored in the agency’s “rush to recapture Furtick’s Section 8 voucher,” and suggested that it had “lost sight of its mission.”

“The Boston Housing Authority terminated Furtick’s housing assistance benefits, a protected property interest, in violation of his due process rights,” wrote Justice Frederick Brown in the decision released yesterday. “Such a result cannot be countenanced by any court of law.”

The court upheld a Northeast Housing Court judge’s decision in 2012 ordering the voucher to be reinstated, a ruling the BHA had appealed.

While she was unable to comment on the decision, BHA spokeswoman Lydia Agro said that there are “tens of thousands” of applicants for housing subsidies on the agency’s waiting lists.

And the Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, colloquially known as Section 8, waiting list has been closed entirely since 2008 “due to lack of funding and inability to issue sufficient vouchers to meet the demand.”

When vouchers are given out, priority is given to people who are homeless, fleeing domestic violence or in other extreme circumstances.

The Appeals Court judge characterized Furtick as a “physically disabled, mentally ill senior citizen” diagnosed with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and physical ailments including asthma, arthritis and an immune disorder caused by a kidney transplant.

Furtick’s arrest in 2011 came after his wife called police to report that Furtick had warned her during an argument that “I shot you once, and I blew the house up, and the third time will be a charm,” according to a police report.

The woman told police that Furtick had, in fact, shot her in 1969, and in 1970, he blew up their home, a crime for which Furtick spent seven years in what is now known as MCI Concord, according to the police report. At some point after that, Furtick received his housing voucher from the BHA, which allowed him to move to any qualified apartment, whether or not it was in Boston.

After a long estrangement, the couple, both in poor health, reconnected about three years prior to the 2011 incident, and she moved into Furtick’s subsidized Salem apartment. But as their relationship again deteriorated, she told police she feared for her life at the hands of Furtick.

After his arrest, Furtick was held in custody at Middleton Jail. In December 2011, he pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to six months in jail and 15 months of probation, to include batterer’s counseling and an alcohol evaluation.

Court records show that he was considered competent to stand trial.

While Furtick was in custody, the BHA sent him notice of an annual recertification meeting in November, then a second meeting in December, neither of which Furtick attended. His attorneys say that he never received those notices because he was in jail.

Nor did he receive notices of the termination proceedings that followed or the letter telling him that his voucher was being reclaimed by the BHA on March 31, a day after he was released from Middleton.

According to Brown’s decision, the news triggered hallucinations in Furtick, who ended up hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for a week, then spent several more days in a shelter before being allowed to move back into the apartment.

Without the Section 8 subsidy, however, he soon fell behind on his rent, and Loring Towers Associates began eviction proceedings.

Section 8 vouchers are federally funded subsidies for low-income tenants. A formula is used to determine how much rent a tenant can afford based on income and family size, and then, the balance of what would be considered a “market rate” rent is paid for with funds from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The judge’s decision also blasted the BHA for appealing the Housing Court ruling, suggesting that given the agency’s actions in the case, they should have let the lower court’s ruling stand.

Brown called the appeal “a confounding decision in light of the serious procedural unfairness apparent on this record.”

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.