New local board for Phila. Housing Authority

The Philadelphia Housing Authority will spend more than $1 million to renovate this vacant apartment building on Queen Lane into 29 units. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)
The Philadelphia Housing Authority will spend more than $1 million to renovate this vacant apartment building on Queen Lane into 29 units. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 27, 2013

Federal officials handed over control of the Philadelphia Housing Authority to a new local board Friday, ending Washington's two-year receivership of the beleaguered agency.

In a public meeting at PHA headquarters in Center City, the Department of Housing and Urban Development transferred power to a new nine-member board of commissioners selected by Mayor Nutter and approved by City Council.

"The reestablishment of local control with a new governance structure means real accountability," Nutter said in a statement.

"The authority in all its actions is responsible to the mayor, who in turn is answerable to the voters," said the statement, read in his absence by his first deputy chief of staff, Suzanne Biemiller.

The new commissioners' first action was to elect Lynette M. Brown-Sow chairwoman. A vice president of Community College of Philadelphia, she previously chaired the city's zoning board.

Estelle Richman, who served as HUD's one-person PHA board during the receivership, then gave Brown-Sow a copy of an agreement between Nutter and HUD finalizing the transfer.

Richman was an acting deputy HUD secretary until December. She retired from that post but then continued working with PHA as a special federal employee to ensure the smooth transfer.

HUD took control of the agency in March 2011, six months after the old board fired former Executive Director Carl R. Greene for failing to disclose having settled three sexual-harassment complaints filed against him by women who had worked at PHA.

The takeover was supposed to be completed within a year, but HUD said many problems were unresolved and extended the receivership another year.

One of the main roadblocks was not settled until Friday's meeting, when PHA formally approved repaying $7.9 million to HUD. The federal agency said much of PHA's spending on outside lawyers had been unnecessary, inappropriate, or not adequately documented.

That represented more than a fourth of all legal spending between April 2007 and August 2010 - a period audited by HUD's independent inspector general.

Assistant HUD Secretary Sandra B. Henriquez told the audience of about 100 residents and PHA staffers that "change is hard."

"It's always hard," she said, but she stressed that HUD and PHA were "locking away the past" and moving forward.

Kelvin Jeremiah, the authority's president and chief executive officer, said the commissioners had attended training sessions during the last three months on what would be expected of them under HUD rules.

Because PHA receives most of its funding from the federal government, its commissioners must adhere to strict regulations.

The process of selecting the board members dragged on for months.

Last summer, after months of delays, the Assembly approved changes that allowed the mayor to select the PHA board members, as done in all other housing authorities in the state.

City Council approved the nine members, but only after significant debate.

One of the new board members is the city's chief integrity officer, Joan Markman, who worked for 20 years as a federal prosecutor before Nutter hired her.

During the confirmation process, Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell characterized Markman as a "federal agent type" and said, "People are tired of feeling beset upon by the feds." Blackwell had been a longtime member of the prior board.

But at Friday's meeting, Blackwell told the new commissioners that she was "looking forward to working with all of you."

In addition to Brown-Sow and Markman, the new commissioners are the Rev. Bonnie Camarda, the Rev. Leslie D. Callahan, Nelson A. Diaz, Shellie R. Jackson, Kenneth A. Murphy, Vernell Tate, and Herbert Wetzel.


Contact Mark Fazlollah at 215-854-5831 or mfazlollah@phillynews.com.

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