Faced with the prospect of a winter with expensive heating oil in short supply, the Cambridge City Council last night approved a series of emergency measures designed to stave off the cold for the city's poor.
The council unanimously adopted three recommendations of its Human Services Committee, instructing the city manager to:
*Attempt to open 200 units of public housing, 25 of which will be set aside for families frozen out of their homes;
*Set up a "fuel emergency hotline" residents can call to discover ways to save energy;
*Administer a $250,000 fund to aid residents unable to afford heating oil with loans or outright grants.
"We've got to be prepared," Councilor Alfred E. Vellucci told his colleagues. "It's already October, and its getting cold, and do we have a program? If we don't get one, people in this city may freeze," Vellucci said.
Although the proposals were adopted unanimously, the council amended all three and debated for more than an hour before approving the package.
Councilor Saundra Graham said the Human Services Committee's original proposal to set aside 25 units of housing for families who run out of fuel is unfair. "They will be jumping ahead of the hundreds of people already waiting on the housing list," Graham said.
"I know of families with small children who have been bitten by rats, who live in roach-infested homes, who have been cold long before the fuel crisis. They are in just as much of an emergency," Graham said, before amending the proposal to open up the additional 175 units of public housing for all residents waiting on the public housing rolls.
"I think we had better act now," Councilor Laurence Frisoli said after Graham suggested the issue be studied further. "We could all study this all through the winter, and I don't think that makes much sense," Frisoli said.
Graham also complained that the loan program would simply place poor residents further into debt. "We don't need more credit--we need ways to really address this problem," she added.