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Advocates Fear Potential COVID-19 Outbreaks In Public Housing

With many older adults and people with disabilities living in public housing, advocates say they need more money to prevent coronavirus infections, buy cleaning supplies and hire more staff.

In a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders, the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants and the state chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Official ask for $15 million to address “grave concerns about the potential for deadly COVID-19 outbreaks in public housing communities across the commonwealth,” according to a press release.

"Nearly two months into this public health crisis, many local housing authorities are making do with the little they received from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency recently: a gallon of sanitizing solution, a box of gloves, a few travel-sized hand sanitizing bottles, and a handful of masks,"the letter reads.

Colleen Doherty, executive director of the Taunton Housing Authority, said some residents still can't get protective gear. She said an elderly woman called her Monday, frustrated.

"She was crying, nervous, did not have a mask," Doherty said. "A lot of our residents don't have computer access, especially our elderly disabled, [to order PPE online]. They're also not traveling right now and they don't have extra money."

Doherty said the $15 million will keep public housing residents safe and would prevent outbreaks.

The money requested in the letter equals about $300 per unit until the end of June. Advocates say the money would ensure every public housing resident receives protective equipment, cleaning supplies and food.

"Everything everyone else is looking for, we're looking to keep that in place for our residents," Doherty said. "We're looking for assistance for the basic needs."

The money being requested would also be used to buy cleaning supplies for staff and the ability to hire more staff if necessary.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Community Development wrote "DHCD has been in regular contact with local housing authorities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to monitor their financial health."

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Quincy Walters Twitter Reporter
Quincy Walters is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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