State Commission Releases Report Sparked by Chelsea Housing Fiasco

A governor-appointed state commission has released a draft report with key reforms to the state’s numerous housing authorities – reforms that were triggered by the meltdown last fall at the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) and include centralizing back office functions and requiring more state supervision.

Gov. Deval Patrick formed the 60-day Public Housing Commission for Sustainability and Reform in January and appointed several state leaders to professionalize the system and make it more accountable.

It was chaired by Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the state Housing and Community Development agency.

“These are thoughtful solutions to effectively address a deteriorating public housing portfolio and the loss of public trust in the system,” said Gornstein.

The biggest recommendation is that a unified property management system be implemented statewide to professionalize public housing’s financial management and take advantage of regionalization efforts. It does not call for dismantling the power of local housing authority boards, though.

Other recommendations include mandatory annual independent financial audits  of local housing authorities, public access to local housing authority staff listings, and required board member trainings.

“Public housing is important, and managing it professionally and with integrity is important to the more than 45,000 households who depend on it and to me,” said Patrick. “The Commission has provided us with thoughtful recommendations to both improve service and restore the public’s confidence.”

To address a backlog of much-need improvements and a lack of sufficient resources, the Commission also recommended seeking additional funding for resident service programs and operating resources for public housing.

There are currently 242 independent local housing authorities throughout the Commonwealth. Under the Commission’s recommendations, most small and medium sized housing authorities will be required to participate in this regional system with a centralized back office and regional supervision with technical assistance.

Local boards and site staff would be preserved.

The Commission recommends a Public Housing Advisory Committee to further develop and implement the recommendations. The Committee would be open to members of the Commission and other key stakeholders and would begin their work immediately.

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