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Housing Authority May Win $100,000

Group a Finalist in Innovations Contest

By Stephen J. Newman

A Cambridge program may soon receive a $100,000 award for its creative solution to a widespread urban problem.

The Cambridge Housing Authority has been named a finalist in the "Innovations in State and Local Government" competition sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government. The housing authority's "Workforce Unemployment Prevention Program" is one of 25 state and local programs nationwide vying for the 10 awards of $100,000 each.

The awards try to recognize creative solutions to local problems, solutions that can be broadly applied to nationwide concerns, said Marc D. Zegans, one of the competition's administrators. "We're trying to learn from success instead of failure."

The Cambridge program counsels disadvantaged teenagers and matches them with internship programs that give them the skills necessary to compete in the labor market. "If we can give kids exposure to the world of work, they can succeed in the world of work," said Steven J. Swanger, the housing authority's director of tenant services.

Swanger said the program is six years old and spent $240,000 last year to help more than 130 teenagers--25 percent of those eligible--living in Cambridge public housing. He added that this program is unique because it is administered through a public housing program.

"Most cities run their housing authorities as real estate companies," Swanger said. He said Cambridge is particularly successful in using its housing department to implement social welfare programs.

Swanger said that the program--if it is chosen--may use the award money either to establish a scholarship fund or to expand the existing program to include eleven and twelve-year-olds. Current participants must be at least thirteen years old.

Zegans said it has awarded $3 million in grants since 1985. This year 1550 groups applied for awards.

The Massachusetts Committee Against Discrimination (MCAD) is also a contender for the grant money. MCAD was recognized for actively searching out cases of racism, rather than simply responding to complaints. Other finalists, Zegans said, include an Iowa program that helps bankrupt farmers and a Florida operation that mines aging landfills for recyclable materials.

Winners will be chosen after July 13, and will be announced in late August or early September.

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