Bromley-Heath tenant control could end

January 19, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

JACKSON SQ.—The Boston Housing Authority (BHA) could be poised to seize control of the Bromley-Heath Housing Development from its famous Tenant Management Corporation (TMC)—the first in the nation—for the second time in a decade, alleging various management problems. The BHA touched off blazing controversy when it took over Bromley-Heath for a year in 1998-1999.

TMC’s current management contract with the BHA expires on March 31.

TMC’s shaky grip on power was revealed by the spotlight on recent crime in Bromley-Heath, including a major drug bust last year and the Jan. 12 killing of a 13-year-old. [See related story.] But the BHA’s management concerns do not directly involve crime, said spokesperson Lydia Agro.

“Certainly, we’re concerned about the crime in the development, but this conversation started a year ago,” Agro said.

TMC director Mildred Hailey and manager David Worrell did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

A community forum on media coverage of Bromley-Heath, organized by employees, residents and past residents, is scheduled for this evening, Jan. 19, at 6 p.m. at Bromley Hall.

The TMC and BHA have been working on a plan for direct oversight of Bromley-Heath by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to Agro. But HUD isn’t interested and believes the BHA should take control, HUD spokesperson Jerry Brown told the Gazette.

“We would expect the Boston Housing Authority to say, ‘Look, this isn’t working out,’ and either set up a system where it could be brought up to standard, or have the Boston Housing Authority take it over,” Brown said.

The proposal for a HUD takeover has not been formally submitted, Agro said, and it appears HUD learned of it from Boston Herald reports. Agro acknowledged HUD’s comments that it isn’t interested in a takeover, but would not comment on whether the BHA will step in if HUD won’t.

Agro said the BHA intends to talk with HUD about “next steps.” She said there is no schedule for that conversation, which hadn’t happened by late this week.

Founded in 1971 by Hailey and Anna Mae Cole, Bromley-Heath’s TMC was a groundbreaking model for tenant control of public housing developments, imitated nationwide. But now, there are only two TMCs left, according to HUD, and Bromley-Heath’s has been plagued by management concerns and scandals.

Agro said the current concerns are that TMC isn’t meeting “performance standards”—the basics of its contract. TMC acts as a property manager and collects some back rent. BHA controls the big picture, filling vacancies, collecting rents and providing police. Currently, HUD only provides federal funding and ultimate regulatory oversight.

TMC and BHA came up with the HUD oversight idea, Agro said, after what appears to have been contentious discussions. The idea is that HUD would essentially perform BHA’s current role. “TMC is working on some preparations needed to move in that direction,” Agro said.

Asked why HUD was suggested, Agro would only say that both groups “thought this was the best course of action to take.” She acknowledged there is a perception that HUD could be seen as a neutral third party in TMC-BHA tensions. Also, federal regulations allow TMCs to request direct HUD oversight. And Hailey has a good relationship with HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who visited the development in 2005.

HUD taking over BHA’s role could mean that the TMC stays in place. But a BHA takeover would likely replace the TMC.

But HUD essentially never takes over individual developments, Brown said, adding, “I’m not aware of one in recent history.”

HUD is more likely to take over entire city housing authorities, but even that is very rare and “absolutely not” a consideration in Boston, he said.

“I’m not sure we would involve ourselves in a local situation,” Brown said. He added that from what he has heard, “There is cause for concern” about TMC’s management, but, “We anticipate that the Boston Housing Authority would be able to do that [takeover] here.”

The very idea of proposing a HUD takeover, Brown said, “begs the question of why the [Boston] Housing Authority wouldn’t be able to exercise its authority.”

“I’m not sure everybody’s going to be happy if we come in,” Brown said with a laugh when asked about the idea of HUD as a neutral third party. “If we come in, there are going to be changes.”

He said HUD more commonly provides “technical assistance,” such as auditors or inspectors, to housing authorities dealing with management problems.
1998 takeover

The BHA’s 1998 takeover almost dissolved the TMC. Allegations included both regular management problems and disputes over the handling of crime, including failure to enforce federal housing laws requiring the eviction of residents convicted of drug crimes. The takeover followed a major gang and drug bust. Those busted included two of Hailey’s grandsons—one alleged as leading a Bromley-Heath gang, and another on drug charges, both without Hailey’s knowledge.

A federal audit and criminal investigation of TMC followed, and a BHA-appointed administrator managed the property for a year. But no one in TMC was charged with a crime, and the organization held on and eventually returned to power. There was significant restructuring, including the disbanding of a TMC-run security force.

However, another scandal followed in 2000 when Hailey’s son was busted for an alleged drug deal conducted in her apartment, again without her knowledge.

Crime and resources
There was a similar major drug raid in the development late last year, but authorities said Bromley-Heath residents were key to aiding the investigation. The BHA is not making any allegations of drug-crime eviction problems.

The Boston Herald recently attributed TMC’s problems in part to crime, citing an old police study that alleged there is a large crime family living in the development and evading eviction. Sources told the Gazette that city agencies consider that study outdated and incorrect.

Local police and elected officials say crime is an easy hot topic, but both crime and TMC problems reflect a lack of resources.

“Straight up, I have no information that homicide is related to Bromley-Heath,” said local E-13 Police Capt. Kelley McCormick, about the recent killing. The victim lived in Mission Hill, was born in Brighton, and apparently was just passing through. “It sounds like it was mere location,” he said.

“It feels like the same issues we had before Mission Main was torn down,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, referring to the Mission Hill housing development where he grew up. “It’s a lightning rod for people to blame the social ills of a whole area.”

“I can say from personal perspective, it’s not just one thing,” Sánchez said. “People aren’t jumping through hoops to get to those folks and offer them jobs. A lot of it’s economic.”

“This isn’t a Jackson Square thing or a Roxbury thing. It’s a citywide thing,” City Councilor John Tobin said of crime, especially recent killings of young people. “We’re not making the proper investment in kids in their formative years in terms of time, attention and love.”

No one doubts that crime is a major Bromley-Heath problem. The development is the home to a gang that has fought a sporadic, bloody battle with rivals. A truce is said to be in place. But public resources are badly needed, officials say.

“That’s definitely going full speed ahead,” said McCormick about truce meetings at Bromley-Heath, which include offerings like GED programs. He noted those programs remain low-profile by necessity because of the dangers of gang involvement.

“It’s a place that needs a lot,” Sánchez said, running through a short list of GED programs, criminal record reform, job training and more home-ownership opportunities.

Tobin emphasized school as a way to care for young people, with both carrots like arts programs and sticks like truancy enforcement. Boston has only four truant officers, he said, pledging he won’t vote for a city budget that doesn’t include a significant increase in that force.

Tobin added that more open discussion of failures in social and family safety nets is needed. “We need to put those issues on the table and make them public, because every day that goes by, we’re losing kids,” he said. “This is life-or-death stuff.”

TMC’s troubles point to a need for more organizing as well, officials said.

“If they’re taking over, what does that mean?” asked Sánchez about the HUD/BHA takeover ideas, wondering what exactly would be solved. He noted that Jamaica Plain has strong community organizing groups, “but I think [Bromley-Heath] needs a little more. You need people from there to say, ‘This is where to go.’”

“Mildred Hailey, when all is said and done, is a good lady,” Tobin said. “She’s a senior and a grandmother, and she’s trying to help. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”

McCormick said Hailey continues to be effective and willing to call out wayward kids in his dealings with her. “She’s absolutely no-nonsense,” McCormick said. “She’s been nothing but straightforward with us.”

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