Calling it a political move by Beacon Hill bureaucrats sitting behind desks, Revere Housing Authority (RHA) leaders said this week they are absolutely against a proposal by Gov. Deval Patrick to regionalize all the state’s 240 authorities into six regional operations.
The move would likely eliminate all local controls – including the director, Board and central office in Revere.
Patrick announced his legislative filing last Thursday, citing Chelsea’s troubles in particular as motivation for the proposed complete overhaul of the state housing authority system. He also cited significant taxpayer savings in regionalizing services believed to be duplicated in the 200-plus authorities.
“This bill will simplify and professionalize our public housing system, improving transparency and accountability,” said Patrick. “We owe the residents and the public no less.”
Not so said Revere Housing Authority (RHA) Director Linda Shaw – a veteran director who has served in many states and sees this as a dangerous change.
“This comes from people who are not practitioners in the field and who sit behind their desks and read their books about theories on how to reform public housing,” she said. “I am very, very concerned about it. Going from 240 to six is a little bit much. It’s a little out there in my opinion.
“I believe in my heart of hearts this is motivated by personal politics and personal gain and not a lot of caring about how it will truly impact the people we serve,” she continued. “I’m going to be talking with legislators to ask them not to vote in favor of this bill.”
RHA Board Chair George Anzuoni said he sees the comprehensive change as a penalty enacted on everyone for the rogue actions of a few.
“I think it’s a wrong move,” he said. “This is all because a few agencies in the state didn’t do things properly and appropriately. I think what caused those problems has been corrected so those things don’t happen again. You read about five or six housing authorities with trouble and there are 240 authorities. This is painting everyone with a broad brush and it’s also taking away local control. I think the local flavor is beneficial to the residents of the housing authority. These people are your neighbors and you care about your neighbors. I know I care and the Board cares. I don’t know if a regional member somewhere else will have that same mindset.”
The comprehensive bill looks to add to several touted government reforms unveiled by Patrick recently. The crux of the plan is that six regional housing authorities would take over ownership and fiscal/operational management of all the authorities in the state – virtually eliminating time-honored local Boards and local administrators. Those regional authorities would centralize operations with one executive director, one Information Technology office, one Human Resources office and single offices for accounting, administration, procurement, wait-list operations and technical assistance. Each regional authority would also consist of just one Board.
The only local aspect left in the system would be that communities would retain control over land use and significant redevelopment decisions – which includes change of use, ownership or financing structures of existing buildings or vacant land.
Also, local site managers and maintenance staff would remain present in each property, though it appears they would be dispatched from a regional hub.
By and large, though, it appears that most functions of public housing would be conducted out of a regional location – and those six locations are not clearly defined in the legislation.
It is proposed to take effect, if passed, in July 2014. It still has to be considered and approved by both houses of the state Legislature.
Shaw said the plan is too heavy on administrative fixes and too light on compassion for tenants. Likely scenarios of tenants having to travel long distances on public transportation to straighten out paperwork problems or attend public hearings about proposed changes readily come to light.
Take, for example, a recent proposal to raise the price of machines in the RHA Laundromats. Many tenants voiced their opinions on the matter and a frank discussion will be had at a future meeting.
The question is, in a regional system, would residents even know about such a change, and would they bother making a trip to voice their opinion at a regional office that could be hours away from Revere.
Meanwhile, navigating a regionalized wait list operation could be downright impossible.
“They have said publicly that it will not impact tenants, but I do not believe that’s true,” said Shaw. “I believe the tenants will bear the brunt of these changes. Even here, any time we change office staff at the local level, there’s a period of acclimation for the tenants. This would have a greater mix of these kinds of changes and acclimations for tenants.
“The wait list is a perfect example,” she continued. “Our family wait list is currently closed because it’s about seven years long. If you throw that list in with six other housing authorizes, it means many people would never have a change at affordable housing.”
Anzuoni added that he believes there is room for some changes, but also believes Patrick can achieve similar reforms with better training for local Board members and state oversight of the local mission statement.
“There are courses offered for Board members by the state housing authority professional organization and maybe those courses should be mandatory,” he said. “It’s really about what the will of the Board is. If your will is to give tenants safe, clean housing – you will not have a problem.”