CHA Makes Turnaround in Becoming ‘High Performer,’ for Real This Time

In a remarkable, and short, turnaround for the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA), the once-troubled agency reported late last week that it had been designated a legitimate ‘High Performer’ by federal and state housing officials – including a perfect score on the financials portion.

The CHA and its former, now incarcerated, Director Michael McLaughlin has been in turmoil for some three years now since it was revealed that McLaughlin had an exorbitant salary and – despite many accolades – was actually running the CHA into the ground.

Since those circumstances became public and the ensuring courtroom dramas played out, on Locke Street in the CHA headquarters, the new CHA Board and its new Director Al Ewing have been trying to correct those sins of the past.

With last week’s declaration, a good deal of that tall mountain had been scaled.

“There are still issues we have to resolve and work on with the state and federal agencies, but we have been designated a ‘high performer,’” said Ewing last Friday. “This designation shows what is going on in the Housing Authority right now and what’s been put in place by the new Board.”

CHA Board Chair Tom Standish said it was great news, and it was finally a legitimate designation – as McLaughlin had received several similar designations achieved through fraudulent inspections.

“The staff, led by the executive director, have outperformed most Authorities and are to be commended for doing the hard work and moving from high performer contrived to high performer actual,” he said. “We’re extremely proud as a Board of our staff. The Board all pulled in the same direction and we achieved something no one expected.”

The physical inspections resulted in a score of 38 out of 40, quite an improvement over what was actually happening in the past. The management of the CHA also achieved highly, getting 23 out of 25 points.

However, it was the financial controls and systems – once an embarrassment to housing authorities nationally – that truly shined. The financial portion of the inspection scored a perfect 25 of 25, and Ewing and Standish said it was something to really hang their hats upon.

“We’re pretty proud of the physical inspection scores, but in fact, to get 25 out of 25 on the financial score was really something we are proud of and that took a lot of work,” said Ewing. “Our new fee accountant Rich Conlin has been instrumental in working with us and putting in place controls and financial processes that allowed us to really advance that score. We also have really benefitted from our accountant Arnaldo Velasquez in the same respect.”

Standish added, “The fact our financial score is perfect after a period of real inadequacy, we’re particularly proud to move away from the past on that one. This kind of performance over two years now indicates that federal and state agencies can have confidence this authority is not just running on an average basis…but is up at the highest level in the industry.”

Ewing pointed to one of his first actions some two years ago, which was brining in an integrated pest management plan. Using a dedicated pest company, the CHA now flushes every development twice a year and has meetings once a week to talk over outstanding issues.

“It’s an ongoing thing and it has to be,” said Ewing. “If they see something, we want residents to call it in. We won’t charge them, which was an issue, nor are we blaming them.”

The end result has been a decline in complaints of about 25 a week to an average of three per week.

Meanwhile, both acknowledged that – while the current picture is rosy – the past still has a lot of knots to untie.

Particularly outstanding is some $8-9 million that has to be accounted for, money that McLaughlin may have used incorrectly.

Ewing said they have a request out to bring out an outside Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to look into all of the expenditures and finally get down to the bottom of where all of that money ended up.

“Our books do reflect what’s accurately going on here, but the past still needs to be cleared up about what went on,” said Ewing. “As to what’s going on now, we’re confident that state and federal agencies and the general public can be certain we will continue to perform at the highest standard.”

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