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Central control urged for state’s housing authorities

A commission appointed by Governor Deval Patrick is calling for more centralized control over the state’s 242 local housing authorities in the wake of scandals that forced the resignation of housing chiefs in Chelsea and Medford.

The commission, chaired by Patrick’s undersecretary for housing, called for the creation of a statewide property management system that would provide expertise and oversight for the housing authorities, especially smaller ones. The Public Housing Commission for Sustainability and Reform also called for each housing authority to undergo independent financial reviews annually and for board members to get training in how to do their jobs.

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“Public housing is important, and managing it professionally and with integrity is important to the more than 45,000 households who depend on it and to me,” said Patrick in a statement.

Patrick set up the commission after The Boston Globe broke the story that Chelsea Housing Authority director Michael E. McLaughlin had deliberately concealed his inflated $360,000 annual salary from state officials. Patrick said he was “boiling” and demanded McLaughlin’s resignation along with his entire board of directors.

A few months later, Medford Housing chief Robert Covelle was forced to resign under pressure amid allegations uncovered by the Globe that he had given jobs and contract work to friends and family members, while frequently flouting federal contracting rules.

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The commission found that many authorities need to be more open and accountable to the public, but they also need technical advice on how to manage the state’s aging public housing stock. The commission is also calling for more funds to reduce an extensive backlog of maintenance in public housing.

Patrick has already set a cap of $160,000 on the salaries to housing directors. McLaughlin had boosted his pay to more than twice that level in part by not disclosing on reports to the state that the board had improved numerous pay hikes.

Nationally, the Obama administration is calling for a maximum salary of $155,000 for public housing agency officials in response to reports of large pay packages to McLaughlin as well as the housing directors in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

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