U.S. Markets closed

Mass. Gov. Patrick proposes public housing changes

BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is hoping to streamline the state's public housing system by eliminating 240 local public housing authorities and replacing them with six regional agencies aimed at ridding the system of corruption and saving taxpayer dollars.

Patrick proposed a bill Thursday that he said would help modernize the system that shelters 300,000 low-income families and elderly residents. There are now 83,000 public housing units in the state.

The proposal would consolidate public housing management — including budgeting, planning and administrative functions — into six central offices. Local communities would retain control over land use and redevelopment decisions.

The Democratic governor said he hoped the overhaul would "professionalize our public housing system, improving transparency and accountability."

The proposal follows revelations in 2011 that the former head of the Chelsea Housing Authority had been taking home a $360,000 annual salary.

Patrick demanded the resignation of Michael McLaughlin after it was shown he was one of the country's highest-paid public housing officials. McLaughlin stepped down.

Local housing officials were quick to reject Patrick's proposal and said they planned to present their own proposal to lawmakers next week.

"This is an overreaction to what happened in Chelsea," said Stephen Merritt, executive director of the Norwood Housing Authority.

Merritt and other members of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, which represents the state's 242 local housing authorities, said their plan would streamline housing services and strengthen accountability without dismantling the current local system.

Patrick's bill now heads to the Legislature, where it could face skeptical lawmakers.

Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Republican leader in the Massachusetts Senate, said he appreciated Patrick's decision to address the issue of public housing management but questioned whether replacing local housing authorities with larger, centralized bureaucracies is the best approach.

"Productive reform needs to be about more than a power shift to Boston of responsibilities currently handled locally," the Gloucester lawmaker said in a statement.