In a major step towards rebuilding the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the agency has named Barbara Adams, former general counsel for the state of Pennsylvania under former Gov. Ed Rendell, as its new top lawyer.

As PHA's new general counsel, Adams, 59, of Philadelphia, fills a position that has been vacant since 2008.

Michael P. Kelly, PHA's administrative receiver, said Adams becomes the "heart, soul and backbone of our recovery effort."

He said she was both "grounded in law and grounded in ethics."

Former executive director Carl R. Greene dismantled much of PHA's legal apparatus, outsourcing most work to the city's top law firms.

From 2007 to 2010, PHA spent $38.5 million on outside legal services, an amount that the acting Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development labeled as "outrageous."

In an interview, Adams said among her first tasks will be rebuilding the housing agency's law department and creating the internal capacity to handle legal work.

Prior to joining Rendell's cabinet in 2005, Adams was a partner for Duane Morris, who specialized in public finance and affordable housing. As general counsel for the state, she managed a staff of more than 500 attorneys. As PHA's general counsel, she also will take on the new position of ethics officer for the agency.

PHA, which receives about $400 million in federal and state funding, is the nation's fourth largest public housing authority.