By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – In an effort to consolidate control of the state's 242 regional housing authorities, in January Gov. Deval Patrick proposed turning over responsibilities of those agencies into six regional authorities. But while the governor is looking at streamlining, Lynne Moreno, housing director for Northborough and Southborough, is warning of a loss of services.
“Right now, we have local control,” Moreno said. “If a central entity takes over, that's going to be completely different. We know the people here, and they know us.”
Both Northborough and Southborough housing authorities are independent, quasi-governmental agencies. Neither receives any state funds, rather they subside completely on the money taken in by renting housing units, Moreno said.
Northborough's housing authority provides 104 units for the elderly and disabled, 26 homes for families with children, and one eight-bedroom house for residents with special needs. In Southborough, there are 56 units of elderly housing, three homes for families, and one eight-bedroom special needs house.
“We plan accordingly, we budget, we make sure our tenants are taken care of,” Moreno said. “It's worked for years. There's no reason why that should change.”
Moreno said that her housing authorities ensure that local people and veterans are given preference, and that homeless applicants are carefully screened. That may all change, she warned, if Patrick's proposal comes to fruition.
“We take care of everything from changing light bulbs to clearing their drains. I think level of service is not going to be there if this takes over.”
“A lot of people really feel this came about after the Chelsea Housing Authority,” Moreno said, referencing a scandal wherein the community's housing director allegedly inflated his salary to $360,000, and then attempted to conceal that fact.
“Some think it was a knee-jerk reaction [to the scandal],” she added.
Many legislators are taking a measured approach. State Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, whose legislative district includes Southborough, co-sponsored a bill in response to the governor's proposal, along with several other local legislators, including state senators Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, and Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, that would, in part “implement a program to select, facilitate and support local housing authorities,” according to language in the bill.
“We can and should always look for efficiencies and improvements in state government,” Dykema said in a statement to the Community Advocate. “I heard concern from local housing authorities about some of the particular impacts from the governor's proposal and have cosponsored a bill that I believe improves the efficiency and effectiveness of local housing authorities” management and operations, while also maintaining local control. I look forward to the public hearing on these and other proposals related to our local housing authorities and encourage those interested in the proposals to share their comments with the Committee on Housing.”
Moreno said that the alternative bill is one she could work with.
“Those are compromises,” she said. “They’re not as extreme, and they work to make housing authorities more efficient.”