Change at top in housing scrutiny
The Boston Gl;obe/File Photo
Mayor Martin J. Walsh replaced on Monday the head of the city agency that inspects restaurants and rental units, including off-campus student housing, the first step in what the mayor described as a series of management changes at the Inspectional Services Department.
Walsh said the shake-up has nothing to do with a report last week by the Globe Spotlight Team that found the city’s chief code enforcement agency was no match for scofflaw landlords and the flood of complaints from neighborhoods that are home to thousands of students. The Inspectional Services Department regularly missed health and safety problems that create dangerous, sometimes life-threatening conditions.
Commissioner Bryan Glascock, who had been in the post since 2012, will be replaced in the next few weeks by William Christopher, an architect who lives on Walsh’s block in Dorchester. The mayor described Christopher as a rigorous administrator.
Glascock will move to the Boston Redevelopment Authority to become the city’s “zoning czar,” a position Walsh created to take a comprehensive look at Boston’s patchwork of building codes and regulations.
“It’s not a demotion,” Walsh said in an interview. “You don’t demote somebody by moving them to a different department. Bryan has a history of actually doing a lot of process work here in the city, and we felt he was the best guy for the job.”
The announcement of Glascock’s move comes just days after Walsh promised to get tough on scofflaw landlords and called for an increase in inspections in student neighborhoods.
Walsh acknowledged Monday that “ISD in some cases is outmatched by landlords,” but the mayor said the culprits were budget cuts, staff reductions, and inadequate technology, not mismanagement by Glascock.
“If I was concerned about his leadership, he would not have the new post in the BRA,” Walsh said. “But I think definitely we need some reforms in inspectional services.”
The agency, which relies largely on paper files, is not able to give firm answers to basic questions, such as how often landlords are cited for housing violations. And when records are filed electronically, the agency does not scour the data to track which landlords have been cited the most.
After the Globe published a series of photographs last week showing student rental apartments that appear to violate a Boston zoning rule that bars more than four full-time undergraduates from sharing a house or an apartment, Glascock led a group of his inspectors to three of those units in Brighton and Allston.
When no one answered the door at those apartment houses last Thursday, three inspectors left notifications for tenants about the city’s interest in inspecting the properties.
Christopher, the incoming commissioner, worked for eight years for the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development as assistant director of architecture and engineering. He also worked for several architecture firms and founded his own company. Christopher understands construction and city regulations, Walsh said, and has a unique perspective on the public perception of inspectional services because he has spent significant time at community meetings.
“He has a good management style,” the mayor said. “What we need right now at inspectional services is a manager who understands the process. . . . He’s a process guy.”
Walsh said he coached Little League with Christopher, and one of Christopher’s sons worked for Walsh as an aide when he was a state representative. Christopher’s salary as commissioner of inspectional services has not been finalized, Walsh said.
Glascock, who lives in Roslindale and has worked for the city since 1986, was paid just over $113,000 last year, according to payroll records. Glascock’s new salary at the BRA has not been finalized, but Walsh said he would not face a pay cut.
Neighborhood activists have complained that the Inspectional Services Department has been unable to police chronic overcrowding of student housing. After Boston University provided the city last year with the addresses of off-campus students, the department said it did not examine the data to determine which student rental units were in violation of the overcrowding measure.
During his visit to the student apartments last week, Glascock lamented that it is difficult to police overcrowding because landlords and tenants have an economic interest to make it hard for inspectors to gain access.
During the Spotlight investigation, the city was unable to produce any citations against landlords for cramming too many students into a rental unit. Even after two fires on the same street in Allston, one of which killed a BU senior last spring , neither property owner was cited for overcrowding.
Josh Goldenberg, who escaped from a 2012 fire by jumping from an attic window on Linden Street in Allston and suffered major head trauma and neurological problems, said he welcomed Walsh’s announcement.
“I look forward to a new system of seriously inspecting student housing off campus,’’ Goldenberg said. “It can’t be overlooked. Off-campus student housing has been a serious safety issue, and I’m happy to hear that new regulations and changes are going to be made.’’
Walsh’s administration announced several other promotions and hires Monday, mostly at the BRA.
Heather Campisano of Mansfield was promoted to chief of staff after more than a decade at the authority. Erico Lopez of the North End will be the BRA’s director of development review and policy. Lopez has worked there since 2006.
Nick Martin of Allston was named director of communications. Martin held the same post at the Boston Public Health Commission.
In the Economic Development Cabinet, Freda Brasfield was appointed chief of staff. Brasfield has worked for the city since 2003.
Lauren Jones was named policy director for the Health and Human Services Cabinet. Jonesworked previously in the office of former lieutenant governor Timothy P. Murray.
Brian McLaughlin will be the associate director of operations for the Property and Construction Management Department. McLaughlin, who lives in Dorchester, was an aide to Walsh at the State House and worked at the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
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