NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 12, 2013

Critics: Overreaction, 'power shift' in Patrick's housing proposal

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to overhaul the public housing system with a major consolidation of housing authorities met swift opposition from local housing officials on Thursday, while some lawmakers predicted the plan would be a “tough sell” in the Legislature and could take time to sort out.

Patrick recognized that selling his plan to lawmakers would be a “heavy political lift” given their ties to local housing boards and officials, but said legislative leaders told him they would “keep an open mind and see what we propose.”

“I think the point is not to figure out what the easy politics are, but how to get this right,” Patrick said.

Norwood Housing Authority Executive Director Stephen Merritt called Patrick’s proposal “an overreaction to what happened in Chelsea,” referring to former Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin, who left under a cloud after he was exposed for significantly underreporting his exorbitant salary to the state.

“We are not Chelsea people. We are not that type of person,” Merritt said.

The Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials rejected the governor’s plan — which would consolidate the state’s 240 local housing authorities into six regional boards — and said it planned to present its own reform proposal to the Legislature next week.

“We agree that there needs to be reform…. What we don’t agree with is the regionalization to six superior regions of housing authorities. We don’t believe in the abolishment of local housing authority boards. That’s painting a broad brush over a thousand elected and appointed housing commissioners who volunteer their time and work tirelessly to ensure at the local level the services that are needed for our elderly and disabled families are delivered in a personalized way,” said Richard Leco, a North Attleborough Housing Authority commissioner and president of the Mass. chapter of NAHRO.

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