EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

January 29, 2013

Housing authority reform faces local pushback

The state’s 242 local housing authorities would be scrapped in favor of six regional entities, under a sweeping reform proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick that’s already being met with resistance from some lawmakers and local housing officials.

The switch to regional housing authorities would drastically reshape the administration of public housing in Massachusetts, where local directors and executive boards have been in place since the 1940s.

“The purpose of the reform is to take what is an outdated and inefficient delivery system for public housing in Massachusetts and modernize it and professionalize it,” said Lizbeth Heyer, associate director of public housing for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which regulates local housing authorities along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Patrick put forth his housing plan in legislation filed Jan. 10. Local housing directors in the Merrimack Valley appear ready to fight it.

“They’re very much opposed to this,” said state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen. “I think they make a good case. ... I’m not sure creating another level of bureaucracy is the answer.”

Local housing authorities have come under fire since it was revealed in late 2011 that former Methuen town manager and Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin hid his $360,000 annual salary in Chelsea from state and federal regulators.

Further examples of wrongdoing, mismanagement and lax oversight at local authorities have since made headlines in Georgetown, Medford and Peabody, among other communities.

McLaughlin, 67, of Dracut, served as town manager in Methuen from 1990 to 1992 and has long been known as a political power broker in the region. He was charged Wednesday in federal court with four counts of falsifying a record in a federal agency matter.

McLaughlin faces up to 20 years in federal prison but legal experts believe the nature of the complaint against him indicates a potential plea deal has been reached, according to the State House News Service.

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