Deval Patrick

Globe: Governor Patrick plans ambitious overhaul of state’s troubled public housing

Kudos to Governor Patrick!

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By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff

Governor Deval Patrick on Thursday will propose eliminating the state’s troubled patchwork of 240 public housing authorities and replacing them with six regional agencies in an effort to eliminate waste and corruption from the housing program for low-
income and elderly people, state officials say.

Public housing, which shelters more than 300,000 people in Massachusetts, has been buffeted by controversy for more than a year since the Globe reported the inflated $360,000 salary of Chelsea’s housing director. Several other directors were forced to resign amid allegations of abuse of their position.

Patrick’s proposal, which is sure to be controversial on Beacon Hill, would consolidate public housing management — including budgeting, planning, and administrative functions — into six central ­offices, while leaving a corps of managers and maintenance workers at local housing author­ities.

Local boards would be cut, eliminating the need for more than 1,000 politically appointed commissioners.

“We think this would dramatically improve public housing for those who need it and at the same time save money by delivering it more efficiently,” said Lizbeth ­Heyer, the state’s associate ­director of public housing and rental ­assistance.

“The current public housing system is antiquated,” she said. “This is a very bold and smart proposal to transform it.”

Some legislators may find Patrick’s plan too bold. For ­decades, housing authorities have been run like separate fiefdoms in each town or city, each with its own board and a chief often selected for political rather than managerial skills.

“The interests are just too entrenched to make it happen,” said one member of a commission appointed by Patrick last year to recommend public housing reforms, who asked not to be identified for fear of alienating others in the housing industry.

“You would have a thousand commissioners calling their state reps and senators complaining bitterly,” the commission member said.

The president of the organization that represents public housing leaders said his group would strongly oppose elimination or consolidation of any housing authorities.

“We will be unveiling our own proposal soon, one that does not undermine local respon­sibilities,” said Richard Leco, adding that the group would go to legislators for support.

As the Globe reported in ­October, critics say that a significant part of the public housing problem in Massachusetts is the huge number of housing authorities, making it difficult for poor and elderly people to navigate the system while straining the leadership talent pool.

Only the state of Texas has more housing authorities than Massachusetts, making state or federal oversight of each individual authority challenging… Read the full article