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Sen. Eldridge and Committee on Housing Release Public Housing Reform Bill

An Act relative to local housing authority reform will enhance and revitalize local housing authorities through a series of governance reform measures.

Sen. Eldridge and Committee on Housing Release Public Housing Reform Bill

The Joint Committee on Housing on Thursday released legislation that improves state-aided public housing programs through greater transparency and increases operational capacity at local housing authorities across the Commonwealth.

“This bill takes necessary steps to improve public housing in communities around the state while addressing transparency and accountability at the local level,” said the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton. “Over the past year and a half, the Joint Committee on Housing conducted a state-wide tour of housing authorities and held public hearings to hear from directors, tenants, advocates and stakeholders to reach a consensus on how to revitalize and improve public housing authorities. I am pleased that the bill we see today will provide greater transparency and accountability for all housing authorities, while encouraging regionalization and collaboration to improve the delivery of services and hopefully build more public housing across Massachusetts.”

“Our goal with this legislation is to improve the involvement and overall experience for residents, increase accountability and transparency, and to encourage the state to step up and do more for local housing authorities,” said House Chair of the Joint Committee of Housing Kevin Honan, D—Allston-Brighton. “This bill encompasses much of what we heard during our travels last summer to over ten different communities meeting with residents, board members, staff, executive directors, industry experts and other stakeholders.

“This bill lays the foundation for productive reform to capture efficiencies and innovations without compromising responsiveness and the local governance that is critical for each of our communities,” said Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “A critical theme of this bill is increasing transparency, accountability and efficiency without undermining the relationship that housing authorities need to have with the people that they serve and the taxpayers that support them.”

“MassNAHRO appreciates the hard work, site visits and public hearings conducted by Senate Chairman Eldridge, House Chairman Honan, and the staff of the Joint Committee on Housing,” said Tom Connelly, executive director at Massachusetts National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials (MassNAHRO). “They have crafted bold, innovative legislation that if enacted, will make local housing authorities better managed, more cost efficient and accountable, plus authorize new roles for tenants in the governance of their authority.”

An Act relative to local housing authority reform will enhance and revitalize local housing authorities through a series of governance reform measures.  The bill will increase accountability and transparency through the establishment of performance benchmarks, board member and executive director training, and annual audits conducted by independent auditors.  The bill requires local housing authorities to create annual plans and make them available for public review and comment.

The bill seeks to further increase tenant involvement and the overall experience for residents by reserving a seat for tenants on every local board, implementing an annual anonymous resident survey, and encouraging a greater focus on providing resident services.  The bill also requires additional technical assistance be provided to the tenant board members, and that each local housing authority create a website with contact information for all board members and key staff members.  The bill will also require DHCD to develop and administer a centralized application and waitlist within one year.

The bill provides for three Capital Assistance Teams to provide additional technical assistance for local housing authorities in areas such developing and managing capital programs, implementing special projects, and coordinating procurement and improvements and repairs among multiple local housing authorities.  The Capital Assistance Team will also survey existing surplus housing authority land and work with DHCD to implement affordable housing development. 

Finally, the bill sets forth a Regional Innovation Pilot Program to create up to three regional housing authorities.  Program eligibility is restricted to regional housing authorities of no less than seven communities and a collective portfolio of 750 units.  This voluntary program would reward newly created regional housing authorities with a 20 percent increase in annual operating funds and greater flexibility in spending between operating funds and capital funds.

This session the committee considered several proposals relative to public housing governance reform.  The committee traveled across the Commonwealth visiting local housing authorities and meeting with residents, board members, executive directors, and staff members.  The committee re-draft incorporates aspects of the bill filed by Governor Patrick and the bills supported by MassNAHRO, suggestions and concerns the committee learned during its travels, and concepts supported by housing advocates and industry professionals.

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