Receivership Ends for CHA

This past Friday did not only represent the end of a hard work week, but also it represented the end of the hard work associated with the last four months of receivership at the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA).

Determining that the CHA is back on its feet and strong enough to stand on its own, CHA Receiver Judith Weber and state housing officials called for an end to the temporary receivership of the Authority on March 9th. Officially, they petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) for permission to end the process.

On Tuesday, Associate SJC Justice Robert Cordy approved the measure and officially put an end to the unexpected and frustrating situation.

“It is highly unusual for a governmental entity to be placed in receivership, even for a brief period,” read the request from Jennifer Grace Millier, an attorney for the state Attorney General’s Office who represented state housing officials.

“Indeed, the temporary nature of the receivership was designed to return control of the Authority to a properly appointed governing board as soon as practicable,” she continued. “The Authority is now sufficiently stable to allow control to return to a duly-appointed board. The Authority’s funds have been preserved and a new, thoughtful budget proposed. The (new) executive director has been vetted and approved. Policies and procedures have been reviewed and changed as needed. Perhaps the best indication that the Authority is running smoothly is that its apartments are fully rented, virtually all work orders completed and all rents collected. And there is every reason to believe that the Authority will continue running smoothly under the direction of the newly-appointed governing board.”

The CHA suddenly began to spiral out of control last fall when the Boston Globe ran an article on former Executive Director Michael McLaughlin, revealing that he had misreported income and was earning one of the highest salaries in the nation for a housing authority director.

In the wake of that and many other articles chronicling unbelievable behavior at the CHA – most of it virtually unknown to everyone in Chelsea outside of the Authority – McLaughlin and the entire CHA Board of Directors resigned.

On Nov. 21st of last year, the state put the CHA into receivership.

Since that time, the organization has undergone an overhaul – to put it mildly.

Weber initiated a top-to-bottom review, affirmed the hiring of new Executive Director Al Ewing, restored the flow of frozen federal and state funds to the housing authority, and established more internal controls to prevent such occurrences in the future. Additionally, she spearheaded the filing of a new 2012 budget for the CHA.

In her latest monthly report to the SJC on activities in February, Weber indicated that she had cut four full-time positions at the CHA and had reduced the salaries of four senior staff members. Both moves aren’t expected to affect services or efficiency, she reported.

“This reorganization, along with the accompanying budget, have been the centerpieces of establishing a viable and sustainable operating plan to guide the CHA in fulfilling its mission of providing decent, safe, and sanitary housing to income eligible households, many of whom are among our most vulnerable citizens,” she wrote.

Another major move in February was returning several units occupied by CHA staff and Chelsea Police Officers to the overall inventory.

Weber indicated that 12 units in the CHA were occupied by resident managers or police officers. One manager moved out last month, and many of the remaining units will be transitioned back to the general public.

“The CHA has drafted a policy that will discontinue the occupancy of several, but not all, of these apartments by resident managers and/or police officers,” Weber wrote. “This will result in several units being returned to the residential inventory in both state and federal public housing where there are long waiting lists.”

Weber also mentioned that the CHA was one of 17 authorities nationwide to receive a $250,000 emergency housing grant to support safety and security measures.

Finally, the key component to ending receivership was getting a new five-person Board in place. After much vetting, she reported that was accomplished late last week. (See accompanying story)

City Manager Jay Ash was appreciative of Weber’s service and said he supported an end to the process.

“I believe the public has been well served by the work of the now former receiver, Judy Weber,” he said. “I am confident, though, that her good work and the work of many others have now placed the CHA in a position to still maintain a high standard going forward.  Specifically, I know that tough questions have been asked, seemingly every policy reviewed, systems and best practices offered up and new operating and oversight expectations instilled in the organization.  That has resulted in the filling of gaps in existing procedures and augmenting the many other effective practices that were already in place at the CHA.”

Ash added that he believes a particularly strong Board is now in place and he is excited to work closely with Ewing in restoring the public’s trust of the CHA.

Federal housing official Sandra Henriquez (the former Boston Housing Authority director) of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), also said she was satisfied with the job done and believed receivership could be ended.

“We want to commend the residents and voucher participants of the CHA for their goodwill and patience until stability and fiscal integrity was re-established,” she wrote in a letter to the court.

Added Ash, “I see the challenges (ahead) to be the routine purview of any housing authority board that successfully addresses such matters as balanced budgets, addressing capital needs, providing for the other needs of residents, following rules and procedures and maintaining board effectiveness in oversight.”

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