State housing officials believe there are a number of problems in the operations of the Revere Housing Authority (RHA), and those officials believe the problems would be solved by a proposal to regionalize the state’s 240 housing authorities.
About two weeks ago, Gov. Deval Patrick and the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) proposed to eliminate the 240 separate local housing authorities and establish six regional authorities.
The comments this week came after local officials at the RHA voiced extreme opposition to the plan last week, saying it was not beneficial to tenants and was likely a good theory, but not a good practice.
Lizbeth Heyer, the state associate director for public housing, said just such a regional proposal would help communities like Revere fix failures that currently exist in public housing.
“For a community like Revere, this will help with the struggles they have working within scale to achieve operating effectiveness and efficiency, to professionalize the staff and bring additional resources and experience that will help with the problems Revere has,” she said.
She specifically indicated that Revere has not done well in handling its scattered site housing program – called a 705 program. Those scattered sites include homes on Dana Street and Highland Avenue.
“The 705 Scattered Site program – those buildings they have suffer from an extreme amount of disrepair which is above and beyond what we would see at housing authorities that run a 705 program,” said Heyer. “All housing authorities struggle with limited resources, but the funding cuts (we’ve seen) are not the cause of the breakdown of the 705 program. That came due to a lack of maintenance and attention to deteriorating conditions. They certainly could have been addressed more effectively to prevent the severe deterioration that exists in those buildings.”
Meanwhile, she said there are other concerns in the RHA that lead her to believe a regional approach will be more effective than the local configuration that exists now.
“The 705s are the most obvious problems from the windshield survey perspective because they are in significant disrepair and are boarded up and a blight to the neighborhood,” said Heyer. “We have an ongoing relationship with technical assistance to the Revere Housing Authority in regard to maintenance, preventative maintenance, management of wait lists and tenant certification. There are other concerns that exist with the Revere Housing Authority that indicate a historic lack of full capacity to operate the housing authority.”
Heyer said a recent grant to the RHA to address repairs to the 705 Scattered Site homes was the result of many years of technical assistance.
For its part, the RHA has been designated a “High Performer” by the federal government (HUD) and its executive director, Linda Shaw, has previously run numerous housing authorities in major cities such as New Orleans.
Heyer said the overall regionalization program – as mentioned before – would establish six regional housing authorities and would eliminate many local functions from communities. That would include an executive director and a local board of directors – as well as back office functions and technical functions.
However, a site manager for each community would remain in place, and maintenance/custodial staff would be available locally with ease, she said. The site manager would be like an executive director, but would not have to deal with human resources and the administration end of the job.
“It’s a complex job and there is a lot to do for one person,” said Heyer. “It’s simply too much on the plate and there’s not enough staff to address all the functions in one job.”
Additionally, many local controls over land development and land use would be retained, so that no regional authority would be able to redevelop property against the wishes of a local community.
It has not yet been established where those regional hubs would be located, but Heyer did say the proposed legislation identifies Suffolk County as one location – likely uniting Revere with Boston, Chelsea and Winthrop. Specifically, each region would contain about 11,000 housing units.
“Any assertion that the plan would result in a reduction of services and will require tenants to travel five, 10 or 15 miles to get services they are due is just not true,” she said.
Patrick submitted the regionalization plan to the Legislature, which is reviewing the bill now.