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Medford's poor spend 50% of income on housing

Low-income families in Medford are being crippled by the cost of housing, with three out of four low-income renters and owners spending 50 percent or more of their monthly income on payments, a citywide analysis revealed earlier this year.

Various city departments are planning responses to deal with issues highlighted in the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, a report commissioned by the city every five years. The analysis identifies populations facing the worst barriers and suggests mitigating actions.

This year’s report revealed that economic disadvantages and lack of education on housing rights are the biggest impediments to families, and minorities are disproportionately being affected.

While median income for whites in Medford was $42,856, for Hispanics it was $30,775 and for African-Americans it was $29,419.

Fewer Hispanics and African-Americans in Medford are able to own homes, and if they can, they have a greater chance of paying 30 percent or more of their income to keep them. The citywide average rate of homeownership is 48.1 percent; for Hispanics, that drops to 33.1 percent and for African-Americans, 5.5 percent.

"Evaluating fair housing is a complex process involving diverse and wide-ranging considerations," the report said. "Conditions ... demonstrate that public policy and programmatic investments have only minimally improved the situation."

The city contracts with several agencies to help mitigate housing issues, but some, like Habitat for Humanity, say their clientele isn't dominated by any particular race. Especially as Medford faces an extremely low vacancy rate among rentals, the problem is almost ubiquitous, many say.

“Everybody is having problems with housing,” said Lilia Caballero, cultural liaison coordinator for the city.

However, non-English speakers are perhaps some of the most susceptible to not understanding their rights under fair housing law, which focus groups cited as a concern in the analysis. For example, participants indicated a public perception that some tenants fear that reporting issues with their landlords to fair housing authorities will result in retaliatory actions such as increased rent or eviction.

The city was advised in the report to increase its outreach and fair housing education, specifically targeting Hispanic and other growing immigrant populations.

Caballero began planning a training in collaboration with Angela Durant, grants administrator for the Parks and Recreation Department, for November. The session will include city staff, social service agencies and various businesses and organizations.

“Right away we got on that,” said Durant. “The city is being proactive.”

The Housing and Community Development Commission will discuss the analysis at its Oct. 9 meeting, to come up with proposals to put before the Medford City Council. Other recommendations from the report include increasing efforts to reduce mortgage default and establishing measures to clean up neighborhoods in low-income areas.

The city reports its progress in responding to the problems identified in the analysis to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides funding for initiatives such as the November training.

“It’s probably too soon to say what kind of strong actions the city may make at this time,” said Durant. “It’s good for people to hear about it, though. A lot of it is behind-the-scenes work that nobody really hears about.”