SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 14, 2013

Housing officials react to governor's regionalization proposal

(Continued)

“You will lose the local flavor,” said Dunn, who earns $79,500 a year. By local flavor, Dunn is referring to the creation of a number of affordable and elderly housing projects in town that were made possible by the Danvers Housing Authority.

For instance, in May, Town Meeting voted to subdivide the land of the former Danversport School, itself a Housing Authority affordable-housing complex, so Habitat for Humanity could build a duplex condo on Mill Street.

“I don’t think a regional housing authority could establish those relationships,” Dunn said.

Dunn said there is merit to consolidating public procurement and to sharing maintenance expertise. Danvers has more than 420 units of housing and eight staff members. But she said it was hard to imagine how a regional housing authority could serve so many communities with varying housing needs.

Speliotis said he’s skeptical about the bill because it doesn’t addresses the problem — that housing directors have little accountability and almost unilateral power. They are audited by the state auditor or a private auditor, but receive little public scrutiny beyond that.

“Unfortunately, the governor has chosen to attack the small housing authorities,” Speliotis said. “The small housing authorities have small problems, the large housing authorities have large problems.”

The way Speliotis sees it, consolidation will not create any more money to build affordable housing. That money comes from the federal government.

“I think the concept is great,” said John Boris, chairman of the Salem Housing Authority, which has more than 1,700 units. He favors the idea of consolidating large housing authorities with smaller ones, though maybe not to the degree of six regional authorities.

State Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, said Thursday that the governor’s proposals sound comprehensive, but he had not had a chance to review them in full.

“If there are ways to make the system more efficient, we ought to look at that,” Keenan said. “If we can reduce expenses, and improve the quality of services for those in those sorts of housing units, that’s well worth it, at the same time I think we need to be ... slow to dump all the housing authorities in the same category certainly with the problems in Chelsea. I am not sure it is fair to suggest all of them are in that situation.”

Dakos worried about what the loss of local control might mean, and whether relationships that have built up over the years among residents — many of whom are elderly — staff and the board will be lost.

“The closer the authority is to the people, the better the job,” Dakos said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

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