Housing plan

Gov. Deval Patrick’s announcement last week that he intends to overhaul the public housing system certainly got everyone’s attention.

Patrick’s plan is indeed dramatic — taking 242 regional and/or local housing authorities across the state and consolidating them into six regional boards. It’s a move the governor says will result in a more efficient financial structure, as well as creating one that will prevent abuses of the system, such as the astronomical ($360,000) salary the head of the Chelsea Housing Authority was taking home.

But given the opinions expressed by local stake-holders in Saturday’s Recorder story, we wonder whether Patrick isn’t over-reaching with his proposal.

As Greenfield Mayor William Martin said, “We need local influence and control when dealing with people in need of housing in the area. We are the ones dealing with them. We are the ones who understand their problems.”

That’s true. Too often, when some sort of regional or centralized approach is established by the state, there are gaps of understanding created.

We only need to look at the attempt to gain state’s greater control over the direction of Massachusetts’ community colleges as a prime example of a plan with shortcomings. With public housing, the governor wants the six regional authorities to have control over budgeting, planning and managing the subsidized housing, leaving local communities with a say over land use and redevelopment.

Misgivings about what Patrick wants weren’t only expressed here in Franklin County.

“We have been in talks with the governor for months and I think this is a knee-jerk reaction to the Chelsea issue,” said Richard Leco, president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment. Leco said that the task force involved in looking at the issue dismissed the consolidation plan at the very beginning, though did conclude that some reforms are needed.

Patrick’s critics say this is an example of a pure power grab, as well as a handy way to pay off political debts, especially since it’s his office that will do the appointing.

But there’s another way to look at this, one that credits Patrick with understanding how state government works. Recognizing that change is never quick or easy in Massachusetts, the governor’s plan could be a way to kick-start a reform process and move it into high gear.

In that scenario, Patrick is smart enough to know that he’s not going to get everything he wants here, but wants to position himself well for negotiations.

Maybe getting the state’s attention so that something concrete can be done was Patrick’s intention all along.

In which case, let the real negotiations begin.

If not, then we agree the plan is too sweeping to benefit commonwealth communities, particularly in western Mass.

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