Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

  Oct. 01–When the Philadelphia Housing Authority went into a tailspin last year, Mayor Nutter tried to seize the moment to put the state-chartered agency on a different course.

  Philadelphia was the only major city in the country where the mayor did not control the housing authority.

Nutter argued that this lack of accountability contributed to the excesses of former PHA Executive Director Carl R. Greene.

   He testified before lawmakers in Harrisburg a year ago that PHA was an isolated island that should be more connected to other city agencies building affordable housing.

  Now, two bills are before the General Assembly that would change that by giving the Mayor’s Office control over the Housing Authority.

In a Senate version, the size of PHA’s board would increase from five to nine, with the mayor appointing every commissioner.

  A House bill would make the same changes to the board size, but has another provision that would affect all housing authorities in Pennsylvania.

  The Republican-sponsored bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Tobash of Schuylkill County, would close a patronage loophole for housing authorities. Employees would have to abide by the merit rules spelled out by the state Civil Service Commission.

Last Wednesday, Nutter went to Harrisburg to sell the idea of reforming PHA to local lawmakers, but got a chilly reception from Philadelphia’s House Democrats.

State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, the Democratic chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, said he felt “blindsided” by the Tobash bill, which has no cosponsors from Philadelphia.

   While Thomas supports the idea of expanding PHA’s board and linking the state-chartered agency more closely to the city, the Mayor’s Office should not have the sole power to appoint all nine commissioners, he said. Thomas plans to introduce his own bill this week.

  “I support the mayor having some control, but the question is whether the mayor should have total control,” Thomas said.

Thomas said board appointments should be split, with the mayor naming five and the remaining four slots selected by either residents, City Council, or other stakeholders.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, said the mayor and Thomas were “on the same page” in agreeing that accountability for PHA should reside in the office of the mayor.

“We’re for the concept, and how it gets done, that’s another matter,” McDonald said. “This is the beginning of the process, not an end.”

PHA is under the control of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) following a tumultuous year that included the firing of the executive director and resignation of the five-member board of commissioners.

Greene was terminated after the board learned that PHA had settled three sexual-harassment complaints against him for $648,000.    

    A fourth complaint was recently settled for $500,000.

Greene operated the state-chartered agency with little interference from its directors. In other big cities, housing authorities are treated as extensions of city government.

   In New York, for instance, the housing chief reports directly to the mayor.

The 1937 Pennsylvania law that created PHA intentionally limits the influence of the Mayor’s Office. Of the board members, two are appointed by the mayor and two by the city controller, with those four selecting the fifth.

But the same rule does not apply to other cities in Pennsylvania. In Pittsburgh, the mayor controls the housing authority by appointing four on the seven-member board.

Rep. Michael O’Brien, a Philadelphia Democrat, said the situation at PHA needs to change, but not as envisioned by the two bills.

  “PHA definitely needs to be restructured,” O’Brien said, “but I believe giving sole authority to the mayor is an excess of power.”

Rep. John Taylor, a Philadelphia Republican on the Urban Affairs Committee, doesn’t have a problem with doing so. He thinks that if the mayor appoints all the board members of PHA, he will be held even more accountable for its success or failure.

  If the appointments are too much a hodgepodge, “there’s no one to give credit,” Taylor said, “or blame.”

 Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659, jlin@phillynews.com, or @j_linq on Twitter.

Reprinted    from MCTcampus.com

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