, Salem, MA

Local News

January 14, 2013

Housing officials react to governor's regionalization proposal

Local and state housing officials are lamenting the loss of local control in Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to consolidate the state’s public system for low-income and senior housing.

On Thursday, he filed a bill that would abolish all 240 local housing authorities and boards and create six regional ones in an attempt to get a better handle on an outdated system that oversees approximately 80,000 units statewide.

“This bill will simplify and professionalize our public housing system,” Patrick said in a statement, “improving transparency and accountability.”

The administration has also been trying to improve the management of local housing authorities, instituting reforms such as withholding money from housing authorities that have units vacant for more than 60 days and setting a $160,000 cap on executive directors’ compensation.

“It’s a response to what happened in Chelsea, and I don’t understand why he is consolidating the regional authorities,” said state Rep. Ted Speliotis, a Danvers Democrat.

Former Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin managed to hide his $360,000 compensation from oversight and did little work among other alleged abuses, according to various reports.

If the bill passes, six regional housing authorities would “take over ownership and fiscal and operational management of all public housing in the commonwealth,” according to a statement from Patrick’s office. The new system would start in July 2014.

Regional housing authorities would have “one executive director, a governing board, central and regional management staff, and local site managers.”

Those working for local housing authorities now would have the opportunity to join the new regional ones. Local communities would retain control over land use and decisions on major redevelopments. Cities and towns would also provide input to RHAs’ annual plans.

“My reaction,” said Minas Dakos, the chairman of the Peabody Housing Authority, which oversees 986 units, “if we are doing our jobs well, why do something as drastic as this? The people I work with over the years, they are good people, and they are trustworthy people.”

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