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Court Strikes Down Massachusetts Rule on Shelter for Homeless

November 1, 1995

BOSTON (AP) _ Getting evicted from public housing for owing rent shouldn’t make a family ineligible for shelter that is guaranteed under state law, a judge ruled.

The regulation, which applied to families evicted from public or subsidized housing for nonpayment, was adopted by Gov. William F. Weld’s administration last March.

Judge Maria I. Lopez ruled Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court that when the Legislature passed a law in 1983, it intended that the state ``provide shelter to families in need without regard to fault or cause of homelessness.″

The law guarantees shelter to families with children or to pregnant women.

Lawyer Steven Valero, who brought the case, said the same argument could be used to invalidate other state regulations denying emergency shelter to families who are deemed by authorities to have caused their own homelessness.

``It implies that any regulation that denies shelter to somebody because `You got yourself in this fix’ is illegal,″ Valero said.

The state Department of Transitional Assistance plans to appeal Lopez’s ruling. Meanwhile, officials have not decided whether to stop enforcing the rule, department spokesman Dick Powers said. He had no estimate of the number of families who had been affected by the rule.

Valero, a lawyer with Greater Boston Legal Services, brought the lawsuit on behalf of Margaret Ratliff and Audrey Dowell, mothers whose families were denied shelter after being evicted for falling behind on rent in state-subsidized apartments.

The case was certified as a class-action, so other families evicted under the same rule could also qualify for shelter now, Valero said.

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