Commission issues public housing recommendations

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The report issued by the Commission for Public Housing Sustainability and Reform on June 21 is calling for more centralized control over the state’s 242 local housing authorities.

The 23-member commission, created by an Executive Order in January, is recommending reforms focused in five policy areas: asset management and governance; preservation of extremely low-income housing; funding for long-term preservation and sustainability; the statutory and regulatory framework; and public process and transparency.

The recommendations include the creation of a single property management system to consist of local site staff; regional supervision and technical assistance; the preservation of extremely low-income housing by expanding resident service and training programs; and an increase in funding to meet resource levels identified in the 2008 report “The Real Cost of Operation of Massachusetts Public Housing.”

The report also calls for the creation of a working group to make recommendations relevant to the statutory and regulatory framework for public housing laid out in state law (Ch. 121B) and the convening of an Advisory Committee to further refine the recommendations.

In response to recent incidents that have caused an erosion of public trust in public housing authorities, the commission also recommends mandatory training for all local housing authority board members, annual independent financial audits, and increased transparency for housing authority operations.

The commission, chaired by Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein, considered the roles of local housing authority staff and board members, municipal government, the administration and the Legislature, tenants, and various other stakeholders.

Municipal representatives on the commission included Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer and Lexington Town Manager Carl Valente.

“Among this diverse group,” Valente said, “there was a consensus that the Commonwealth’s 242 housing authorities, which provide 45,600 units of affordable housing, provide quality basic housing and support services to a segment of the state’s most vulnerable population. That being said, it was also a consensus of the commission that additional state resources for maintaining public housing are critical, as are changes to the governance and management structure of our housing authorities.

“The commission has provided Gov. Deval Patrick and Undersecretary Gornstein with a challenging set of recommendations to strengthen local housing authorities and improve their accountability to both tenants and taxpayers.”

The commission, which first met on April 11, was given 60 days to report back to the governor. The commission considered oral and written testimony presented at two public hearings, held in Boston and Springfield.

Download report of the Commission for Public Housing Sustainability and Reform (610K PDF)

Written by MMA Legislative Analyst Katie S. McCue