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January 16, 2013

Editorial: Governor's plan for housing reform goes too far

The downright insulting case of former Chelsea Housing Authority chief Michael McLaughlin, who managed to hide pieces of his $360,000 compensation package and virtual no-show work ethic from lax state oversight officials, shows that there is a need to carry out reforms to the Massachusetts housing system.

But the bill Gov. Deval Patrick filed last week – seeking to scrap all 240 local housing authorities and boards and consolidating them and their services under six regional oversight agencies — looms as a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. And we can only hope that other lawmakers join behind state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr in fighting for a more realistic approach to reform.

While many housing authority directors across the state are crying foul over the governor’s proposal, it’s to Gloucester Housing Authority Director David Houlden’s credit that he at least recognizes the system needs some changes. Tops among those should be to establish a centralized registration system whereby the growing number of people needing housing assistance can apply once to the state – not to each of the individual housing authorities, or theoretically all 240 agencies in the state – as the case is today.

But Houlden and other housing chiefs also make a number of valid points arguing the importance of maintaining local control. In Gloucester, for example, Houlden noted that the GHS has set up a variety of programs addressing the transportation needs and other issues for the roughly 4,500 residents who are served by the system, which either manages or facilitates rental use for 1,300 housing units in all, topped by the 160-unit Riverdale Park public housing complex off Washington Street at Veterans Way and Patriot Circle.

Houlden noted that, among other factors, a majority of people in Gloucester Housing Authority properties are elderly, many have disabilities, many do not have licenses or cars — posing all sorts of obstacles in a city that, for the most part, is an island community.

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