Housing Authority Reform – Competing Proposals

Background Information

In January 2012, Governor Deval Patrick created the Commission for Public Housing Sustainability and Reform. The goal was to develop recommendations for the sustainability and reform of state-aided public housing. Major policy recommendations included:

  • Seek funding to expand resident service and training programs and support resident organizations
  • Strive to increase operating and capital resources
  • Convene a working group to recommend changes to state public housing laws and regulations
  • Mandatory training for Board members, increased transparency about staff and operating information and annual independent financial audits
  • Creation of single unified housing property management system that would be centrally based

On January 10, 2013, the Governor filed legislation entitled “An Act to Regionalize Housing Authorities”(H44).  The bill would consolidate all of the state’s 240 housing authorities into six regional housing authorities (RHAs) with full operational and financial control over the entire state and federal public housing portfolio, estimated to be approximately 84,000 units.   Local control would shift from current Executive Directors and Boards of Commissioners of local housing authorities (LHAs) to regional Boards appointed by the Governor who would in turn select a single Executive Director to manage the regional portfolio.

The proposal follows closely on the heels of the Chelsea Housing Authority scandal and subsequent investigative reporting by the Globe.  Prior to submitting his proposal, the Governor had already made several changes in response to the scandal:

  • Implementing a new vacancy policy in which the state withholds funding to housing authorities for units vacant more than 60 days without a waiver.
  • Implementing a formula funding system which provides every housing authority a predicable needs-based share of capital funds to ensure a more effective capital investment program.
  • Requiring local housing authorities to produce an annual independent audit to the Department of Housing and Community Development.
  • Requiring housing authorities with state-supported public housing to provide DHCD with the top five salaries of management staff; setting a cap on executive directors’ total compensation at $160,000.
  • Mandating authority board members certify directors’ salaries and detail benefits every year, capping annual salary increases at a level consistent with comparable municipal employees, and requiring housing authorities confirm monthly meeting occur and confirm attendance of board members.

The Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials rejected the Governor’s  proposal and submitted their own through Senator Marc Pacheco (“An Act to Further Enhance Efficiency and Accountability of Operations at Local Housing Authorities” – S1592)

This legislation does NOT centralize control but would establish:

Collaboration – larger LHAs could serve as “collaborative management and service agencies (CMSAs)” for smaller client housing authorities (LHAs with less than 100 state-aided low-income housing units would be required to participate) to provide needed technical assistance and services in the areas of:

  • Vacant unit turnover – cleaning, painting, maintenance and capital work required to make a vacant unit ready for occupancy
  • Procurement – purchasing of goods and services, especially in the areas of modernization and construction
  • Capital improvements – project administration and monitoring of capital projects included and approved by DHCD as part of an LHA’s capital improvement plan

As part of the program, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) would be directed to work in coordination with local housing authorities, municipal officials, public housing residents and public housing industry professionals to establish an incentive system and process that would result in at least 50 housing authorities transferring their full management operations to CMSAs.

Centralized application and waiting list administration – creation of a standardized application that families need to complete only once for a state public housing unit – mandatory use for all LHAs with state public housing units

Incentives for the Use of Consortia – two or more LHAs administering their programs together while keeping separate Boards, but functioning as a single entity for reporting, funding and oversight purposes to reduce administrative burdens

Mandatory independent financial and compliance audits – based upon a negotiated and agreed upon audit protocol while also requiring DHCD to have the capability to receive uploaded financial data as part of a central automated financial data system (already in place at HUD)

Establishment of a performance based monitoring system – to review LHA operations based upon objective performance indicators which would allow for the early identification of troubled agencies – mandatory for all LHAs with state public housing units

Establishment of an LHA accreditation system – to provide a qualitative evaluation of LHA performance by independent housing professionals based on local conditions – mandatory for all LHAs with state public housing units

Formalizing a system to identify and address troubled LHAs – through the establishment of clear and transparent procedures with “triggers” to require troubled LHAs to participate in corrective actions

Current Status

Bill has been assigned to the Joint Committee on Housing.  The Commission for Public Housing Sustainability and Reform is continuing to meet and to discuss how the Commonwealth might move forward.  Committee co-chairs – Senator Eldridge and Representative Honan are planning a state-wide tour of Housing Authorities and public hearings throughout the Commonwealth.

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