Mayor Nutter is set to exert new, tighter control of Philadelphia's beleaguered housing agency

Posted: July 05, 2012

After successfully lobbying Harrisburg to tighten the ties between City Hall and the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Mayor Nutter now must come up with a slate of candidates to rebuild the agency's board of commissioners.

On Saturday, the Senate gave a unanimous final vote of approval to a bill that will give the mayor the power to choose a nine-member board for the authority.

Previously, the mayor appointed two commissioners, with the city controller nominating two more. Those commissioners, in turn, elected a fifth member.

Under the new law, City Council must sign off on the mayor's nominees, who cannot be public officials. Commissioners will serve terms concurrent with the appointing mayor's.

The authority is operating under the control of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which pressured the previous board to resign in March 2011. The PHA was in an administrative crisis following the firing of Executive Director Carl R. Greene, who was accused of sexual harassment.

The previous board, led by former Mayor John F. Street, was criticized as lax and inattentive.

The PHA has been the only housing authority in Pennsylvania over which the mayor's office does not exert control by appointing a majority of board members.

Mark McDonald, Nutter's spokesman, said that the mayor was grateful for the bill's passage and that his office would decide over the summer what types of people should serve on the board.

"We are in the process of moving forward and we expect to have nominees some time in the early fall," McDonald said.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming), the bill's prime sponsor and the chair of the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, said the governance of PHA now matches other housing authorities around the nation.

With PHA controlling hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, "it is so very important that accountability is restored to the PHA board," Yaw said.

Gov. Corbett, who is likely to sign the bill, will have 10 days to do so.

Even though the mayor will appoint a new board, the PHA will remain in HUD receivership. HUD senior adviser Estelle B. Richman is currently PHA's sole commissioner.

"We believe increasing the board size and composition is critical to stabilizing the Housing Authority for the long term," Richman said in a statement. "We're seeking a balance between housing expertise and those who understand the services needed for those the PHA serves."

All commissioners will need training, she added, "if the board is truly going to serve Philadelphia."

HUD will decide if and when PHA should return to local control.

Such continuing federal oversight is needed, according to State Rep. Mike McGeehan (D., Phila.). With ongoing federal investigations at the agency, McGeehan said, there should be no hurry to return the PHA to local control.

McGeehan said he was "encouraged" after meeting Monday morning with Richman and the PHA's interim executive director, Kelvin Jeremiah. But, he added, "I will be watchful."


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

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