Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has introduced legislation that seeks to consolidate the state’s 240 housing authorities into six regional agencies.

“This bill will simplify and professionalize our public housing system, improving transparency and accountability,” Patrick said in a statement. “We owe the residents and the public no less.”

Under the proposal, the six regional housing authorities (RHAs) will take over ownership, and fiscal and operational management of all public housing in the commonwealth.

RHAs will have professional senior leadership and centralize the information technology, human resources, administrative, accounting, procurement, and regional technical assistance functions—producing cost savings and increased efficiency to the state and to taxpayers. The new system will take effect in July 2014.

Staff at the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will continue to dedicate their attention to oversight of housing authorities, supporting innovation and best practices. This includes a robust process for tracking and monitoring reporting requirements, including a system of regular review of local housing authority operations.

The reforms announced by Patrick follow a series of immediate changes made by his administration last year to improve management at local housing authorities. Those changes include:

  • Implementing a new vacancy policy in which the state withholds funding to housing authorities for units vacant more than 60 days without a waiver;
  • Implementing a formula funding system that provides every housing authority a predicable needs-based share of capital funds to ensure a more effective capital investment program;
  • Requiring local housing authorities to produce an annual independent audit to the DHCD;
  • Requiring housing authorities with state-supported public housing to provide DHCD with the top five salaries of management staff and setting a cap on executive directors’ total compensation at $160,000; and
  • Mandating authority board members certify directors’ salaries and detail benefits every year, capping annual salary increases at a level consistent with comparable municipal employees, and requiring housing authorities confirm monthly meetings occur and confirm attendance of board members.