In a tit-for-tat discussion that has erupted in the newspapers, state housing officials last week went on the attack towards the Revere Housing Authority (RHA) one week after local officials criticized a new plan to regionalize housing authorities.
Now, local officials say they are shocked that they cannot speak their mind without the threat of retribution by state agencies. They also are a little shocked as to where the sudden criticism of their work is coming from, after getting nothing but praise until offering the recent criticism.
“We have scored very high when we’ve been reviewed by Housing and Urban Development,” said RHA Executive Director Linda Shaw. “This is America. I should be able to voice an opinion different than the state’s opinion and not have to worry about retribution. I am president of the North Shore Housing Executive Directors Association (NSHEDA) and I was urged to speak the concerns of that organization and the dissatisfaction it has with the governor’s bill, and that’s what I did.
“We always have been professional, especially with DHCD and HUD,” she continued. “When I came here, relationships were strained with these agencies and I worked very hard to cultivate those and make them better and more professional. I’m not sure where this criticism last week came from. We’ve had no complaints from them before, only praise.”
Board Chair George Anzuoni said he was also surprised given that the RHA went through a self-imposed reorganization when problems erupted in 2005 and 2006, repairing problems in record time due to an aggressive and difficult schedule.
“We’re surprised absolutely by this kind of attack,” he said. “I think everyone in the housing authority is surprised given what we have gone through over the past few years. We understand the plan the governor wants to put through, but our experience is that the local control is optimum because we’re dealing with our neighbor and not a number.”
In particular, state housing official Lizbeth Heyer was critical of the RHA’s alleged neglect of its scattered site housing program (called 705s). The various buildings, most of them in the Ward 2 area, have been in disrepair for years.
While Heyer said funding cuts have been an issue, she also said that mismanagement of the program has been the root cause of the dilapidated conditions. She said that was a prime example of why regionalization would be preferable to local control.
Shaw disagreed totally with that assessment and produced a stack of letters going back to 2006 where the RHA requested funding or access to unique programs – such as putting the 705s into a non-profit. Those requests were largely not met with any great amount of help from the state, she said.
“Clearly we inherited the deplorable conditions of the 705s,” said Shaw. “Seven of 15 are not livable and were like that when I walked in the door. Lizbeth Heyer is fully aware of that. To say that they’ve become like that in the last few years is misleading. I have the greatest maintenance staff in the Commonwealth.”
Anzuoni said they have tried to get their 705s into a non-profit program for several years, but have always run into road blocks due to the terrible conditions. Likewise, they have never been offered any funding until this year to help fix them up.
“We appreciate the state’s assistance they’ve given us, but to reiterate, those buildings were built in the 1930s,” he said. “They have deteriorated over the years due to lack of funding. Whether the state has given enough funding to keep them up is questionable. To have them attack this now is unfair and uncalled for – especially when we’ve done so much.”
Added Shaw, “Last year, we finally got some funding to work on the 705s, and cooperation from the state that was more than lip service. Prior to that, we didn’t have a lot of action going on.”
In closing, Anzuoni defended Shaw and said her qualifications would stand up to anyone in the state or the nation – noting that she has led housing authorities in major cities like New Orleans, and that should qualify her for an opinion.
“They’re not going to find anyone more qualified than Ms. Linda Shaw to be executive director or the head of a housing authority,” said Anzuoni. “Her background alone stands up to anyone in Massachusetts or across the country – unequivocally. She was not a political hire for us. She came due to her qualifications. We did the right thing in hiring her and it shows. The number of things she’s accomplished in housing and other areas of the government are significant.”
Anzuoni and Shaw both said they are prepared right now to take their 705 program into non-profit status due to the recent grant they received.
“We have already engaged an attorney and have a vote of the Board for that,” he said.