Bromley-Heath leader retires; BHA takes over

JACKSON SQ.—The leader and co-founder of the Bromley-Heath housing development’s groundbreaking tenant-run management corporation will retire at the end of March, and the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) will take over. The tenant group will continue to advise the BHA, but will no longer have a management role, BHA spokesperson Lydia Agro told the Gazette.

Mildred Hailey founded the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) along with Anna Mae Cole 40 years ago. It became a nationwide model for tenant-controlled public housing, with Hailey heading it as a major community leader. But the TMC and Hailey also have had various scandals and a history of BHA takeover disputes.

“Hailey’s retirement ends a historic era in tenant management of public housing,” said BHA Administrator Bill McGonagle in a press release.

Agro did not respond to Gazette questions about why the TMC, which has other staff members, will not continue operating the development. Hailey did not return Gazette phone calls and a BHA press release about her retirement did not quote her. A call to the TMC office was answered by an answering service. Cole declined to comment about the situation.

The BHA takeover appears to have been a surprise to residents as well as to nonprofits that operate within the development.

The BHA indicated that Hailey is retiring voluntarily. The BHA will “work with the community and the TMC Board to determine how best to move forward over the long term,” said the press release.

McGonagle has informed the TMC board that “once the BHA begins direct oversight of the development, the role of TMC will be identical to that of the resident task forces that operate at public housing developments throughout the city,” Agro told the Gazette in an email. That means the TMC will become an advisory group with no management contract or authority.

“The TMC and Mildred have in many instances performed admirably over the years,” McGonagle said in the press release. “However, for everything there is a season. I respect Mildred’s decision to retire. She has earned the opportunity to rest and reflect on her many accomplishments.”

BHA staff will begin transitioning out the TMC staff starting on Feb. 21, with the takeover becoming complete on April 1, Agro said. The TMC board is slated to hold an election in April, and the BHA will provide support for that, Agro said.

Bromley-Heath, a combination of the Bromley Park and Heath housing developments, is home to hundreds of people. It sits between Centre and Heath streets in Jackson Square. The BHA owns it, with TMC operating and managing it under contract.

Two nonprofit agencies in Bromley-Heath told the Gazette that the TMC and the BHA did not inform them about the leadership change.

“We are in the dark, totally,” said Eva Clark, executive director of the Judge Richard L. Banks Community Justice Program, which helps adults released from prison and youths in juvenile detention.

JP APAC, a wide-ranging social service agency and food pantry, also has heard nothing. “The BHA’s a good partner [at other housing developments],” said Michael Vance, the vice president of field operations at ABCD, which runs JP APAC. “We’ll see what happens.”

The BHA informed tenants of the takeover in a letter this week. One Bromley-Heath resident, Candace Keshwar, told the Gazette that there were longstanding rumors that BHA wanted to take over the development, but the decision still “came out of left field” as a surprise.

Keshwar also said that the BHA takeover may be welcomed by newer residents such as herself, saying there is “definitely” a perception of favoritism by TMC on behalf of some long-term residents. She cited cases of three-bedroom units with two residents, while larger families were unable to transfer into such apartments.

“I think it will be fairer…because it isn’t personal,” Keshwar said of BHA management. “I think, for newer residents, it will seem like we’re on an even playing field.”

That reaction reflects the mixed history of the TMC, which ranges from activist triumphs to allegations of mismanagement.

TMC was a product of 1960s tenant activism. One of the first, and now one of the only, tenant-run management organizations, TMC turned Hailey into a national spokesperson on tenant empowerment. In the early years, TMC brought in major social service programs and ran its own security force.

TMC had a large role in planning the Southwest Corridor Park in the 1980s after Bromley-Heath activists were involved in the earlier protests against a highway planned for its location. And in the 1990s, TMC was a partner in the JP Plaza development that brought the Stop & Shop supermarket to JP.

But crisis came in 1998, when two of Hailey’s grandsons were arrested in a massive drug raid at the development. Amid allegations that the TMC failed to evict people convicted of drug-dealing, the BHA deposed Hailey and took over management for a year.

In 1999, one of Hailey’s sons was arrested in her apartment on a homicide charge, and the following year, another of her sons was charged with dealing drugs there. There was no sign that Hailey was aware of any of those alleged crimes, but public scrutiny of TMC increased.

After another big drug raid in 2006, the BHA again proposed taking over Bromley-Heath’s management, but the TMC fought to retain control. In 2010, the BHA again alleged that the TMC was failing to evict tenants who committed crimes. The BHA also investigated claims that TMC’s predominately black leadership discriminated against the growing population of Hispanic and Latino residents. A study found no actual discrimination, but called on TMC to address the widespread perception. TMC issued a plan for doing so last year.

Rebeca Oliveira contributed to this article.

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