HUD calls on Street, rest of PHA board to resign

Posted: February 26, 2011

Five months after the Philadelphia Housing Authority board forced executive director Carl Greene to hit the road, the federal government yesterday asked the board to do the same.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development yesterday called for the five board members - who oversaw the agency as Greene allegedly secretly settled three sexual harassment lawsuits against him - to quit.

"We believe [PHA's] recovery will proceed much faster if the current board steps aside and allows HUD to step in temporarily to work in concert with its interim executive director to restore confidence in the agency and to protect the funding for the residents who rely on its services," HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims said in a statement.

While noting that the board members, including former Mayor John Street, the chairman, "truly care" about the 81,000 residents who live in public housing, Sims called for "an oversight authority not burdened with responsibility for actions of the past."

If the board members stepped aside, HUD officials would work directly with interim Executive Director Michael P. Kelly. The New York housing chief has been on loan to PHA since November to help clean up the mess Greene left behind.

Besides Street, the board includes City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; labor leader Pat Eiding; Deborah Brady, the wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady; and tenant representative Nellie Reynolds.

Street, in an e-mail, declined to comment last night, but said he hoped to have a comment from the board by this afternoon. None of the other board members was available to comment late last night.

But City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who appointed Eiding and Brady to the board, said HUD should place some of the blame on itself.

"The PHA board failed to act sooner on the actions of Carl Greene, but HUD also failed to catch Greene [in] audits," Butkovitz said. "If they feel the PHA board members should resign, then the HUD officials responsible for failing to catch Greene during the audits should also resign."

Butkovitz said he thought that HUD and the PHA board were "in harmony," considering that the board accepted HUD's recommendation to hire Kelly. He said the agency was going in the right direction since Greene's ouster.

"There's enough responsibility, everyone could have done their jobs better," said HUD spokesman Jerry Brown. "[But we] truly believe that, moving forward, we actually need to start with a clean slate."

Last month, HUD ordered PHA to freeze its spending on outside legal contracts. Meanwhile, the FBI, Justice Department and HUD's inspector general have reportedly begun probes of the agency.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called yesterday's request the "strongest evidence yet that HUD is finally paying attention."

"I hope this is a turning point in HUD's work to improve housing for residents and protect taxpayer money at one of the nation's biggest housing authorities," he said in a statement. "I'll continue to push hard for HUD to do its job."

Staff writer Barbara Laker contributed to this report.

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