Here's hoping the Philadelphia Housing Authority's return to local control means it can stay out of scandals while meeting its mandate to provide "decent, safe, and sanitary" housing.
After two years under federal receivership, PHA was returned to local control last month by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, bringing to an end an odious chapter in the housing agency's history that will be hard to shake.
HUD took over PHA in March 2011 following an audit of the authority's legal expenses that revealed numerous irregularities, including "block billings" that failed to itemize services; contracting lawyers to do work that could have been handled by PHA staff; hiring multiple firms for the same assignment; and hiring lawyers to block auditors' scrutiny.
The audit was ordered after fired PHA executive director Carl R. Greene was accused of hiding the expenditure of $684,000 to secretly settle three sexual harassment suits against him. Greene was also said to have spent spent $33 million on lawyers from the city's most connected firms. His lavishness reportedly included hiring belly dancers for a PHA function.
The allegations exposed a PHA board that wasn't paying proper attention to Greene's handling of the agency. Perhaps its members were mesmerized by his success in otherwise running the housing authority. From March 1998 to September 2010, Greene presided over a period of unprecedented improvements in the quality of housing for PHA tenants.
HUD replaced the inept, five-member board with a single member, HUD senior adviser Estelle Richman, who was Pennsylvania's welfare secretary during the Rendell administration. A new, nine-member board has been appointed by Mayor Nutter. Previously, the mayor only made two appointments, with the city controller making two, and the board itself appointing a fifth member.
The new board includes tenant, civic, religious, and legal leaders. Lynette M. Brown-Sow, a former deputy mayor who is now a Community College of Philadelphia vice president, will serve as its chairwoman. Also on the new board is the city's chief integrity officer, Joan Markman, a former U.S. attorney, who can be expected to lend an ear to whistleblowers and forward their concerns to appropriate authorities.
Other board members include Leslie D. Callahan, pastor of St. Paul's Baptist Church; Bonnie Camarda, a director for the Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware; Nelson A. Diaz, a former city solicitor; Herbert Wetzel, a City Council analyst; Kenneth A. Murphy, an attorney with Drinker Biddle & Reath; and PHA residents Shellie R. Jackson and Vernell Tate.