Local government will remain strong partners and have control over land use and development decisions, and can opt for a locally appointed local housing board. Local communities play a vital role in shaping affordable housing, and that is why the governor’s legislation strengthens this critical role. Local control means having control over decisions that impact local communities, not about control over which accounting or payroll system to use.
Besides improved services for tenants, the regional housing authorities are projected to save the commonwealth upward of $10 million annually that can be reinvested into housing by consolidating administrative functions such as accounts payable, procurement and human resource management; utility savings through combined rate negotiation and bulk purchasing; and regionalizing capital project management practices, including the purchase of expertise, materials, equipment and services to maintain units. Equally important, with the broad range of expertise available to all housing authorities in the region, more timely preventative maintenance will head off costly capital repairs and vacant units will be able to be turned around quicker allowing those units to be rented to qualified families.
Change can be difficult, but modernizing and reforming our system will make government work better. The majority of our housing authorities do the best they can with what they have: good intentions but limited resources, inadequate staff capacity, antiquated systems, and dedicated boards that often lack training and technical assistance. Whether our fixes are targeted at those housing authorities that are well-intentioned but still struggling, those that are just getting by or those that are plagued by mismanagement — public housing tenants, local communities and the commonwealth deserve more. We can and must do better.
Aaron Gornstein is the Patrick-Murray administration’s undersecretary of housing and community development.