Philadelphia Scandal Underscores Pitiful State of Public Housing Oversight

Philadelphia Scandal Carl Greene Public Housing Oversight Carl Greene, the embattled director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, was paid more than $300,000 last year, a bigger salary than either Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter ($195,000, excluding voluntary givebacks) or Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell ($167,850). But that's the least of the scandals that have enveloped the fourth-largest U.S. housing authority, a fact that should disturb even those taxpayers who live outside the City of Brotherly Love.

Over the past few weeks, Philadelphia media outlets have painted a troubling picture of Greene, who has lead the PHA since 1998. Reports say he settled four sexual harassment claims over the past five years -- without notifying the PHA board. Greene faced a harassment suit in his previous job in Detroit, but Rendell, then Philadelphia's mayor, inexplicably hired him anyway. Indeed Rendell went so far as to include "a clause in Greene's contract that ensured he would be hired in Philadelphia even if he lost the suit in Detroit," according to The Philadelphia Tribune. Rendell's spokesman Gary Tuma says that the governor is not interested in discussing Greene.

Beyond the sexual harassment issues, there are those concerning money. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that Greene doled out work to politically connected law firms, pressured employees to donate to his favorite nonprofit, and even threw a party using PHA funds for a board member who also is a member of City Council.

And the Greene saga doesn't end there.

In the wake of revelations that he was facing foreclosure and has an IRS tax lien, Greene failed to show up for work for several days, then said he was going on leave to deal with his personal problems, saying the stress proved to be overwhelming. Philadelphia officials are clearly tired of his antics. Mayor Nutter has called for his resignation, as has The Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia civic watchdog group.

"His tenure is clearly in jeopardy and his legacy threatened," says John F. Street, a former Philadelphia mayor who is now the PHA chairman, in an email to DailyFinance. "A timely retreat (resignation) in the best interest of all parties might be good. Mr Green should talk to his family, friends, lawyers and communications people about such a big step."

The 53-year-old Greene will have plenty of time to clear his head. Members of the PHA board voted Thursday to suspend him. He'll be on paid leave while the board investigates the accusations against him. Greene was not at the meeting. His attorney told KYW Newsradio that he was being treated for an undisclosed medical condition.

Dysfunction Is Widespread in Housing Authorities

In the meantime, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking steps to make sure that federal money sent to PHA was not misspent, according to spokesman Jerry Brown. He declined to elaborate, though the Philadelphia press reported that an audit is under way of PHA's management and finances. The U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and HUD's Office of Inspector General also declined to comment, but so far, Greene hasn't been charged with any crimes. A PHA spokesman did not respond to an email from DailyFinance.

Though Philadelphia's situation seems extreme -- U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has raised questions recently about PHA's management -- allegations of mismanagement involving the nation's 3,200 housing authorities are hardly new. While the agencies receive billions in federal dollars, they face problems that are even larger in scope, and the need for public housing is so great that waiting lists for units are years long. The PHA alone has an annual budget of about $347 million and 1,150 people on the payroll.

In 2009, several current and former employees at the housing authority in San Antonio were indicted on charges that they took bribes from developers. A board member of the Hoboken, N.J., Housing Authority was arrested on charges he took a payoff to move someone up the waiting list. Four former officials in the New Mexico housing authority system face criminal charges regarding the agency's default on $5 million in bonds. In May, a board member of the Luzerne County, Pa., Housing Authority pleaded guilty to taking a bribe.

Former HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who at one point tried to investigate Greene, was forced to leave office himself amid corruption allegations. He later was cleared, and recently had this to say about Greene: "Everyone knew .... It was just a matter of time before he imploded and it became public knowledge."

Fixing the Problems of Lax Oversight

The problem at PHA appears to be one of shockingly lax management. Until this scandal, Greene's reputation was so good that PHA was allowed by HUD to participate in its prestigious Move to Work program, which lets authorities run innovative programs with less oversight from the federal agency, according to Linda Couch, senior vice president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. He was also well-liked personally by many people.

"There might not have been the same level of scrutiny because the reporting requirements [for Move to Work] are not as stringent," she says. "He's very affable ... [and] does not sit back and come in and out of notice."

As Couch points out, homelessness is on the rise because the economy still working through the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The agencies that are supposed to address the problem of making housing available for the poor have well-deserved reputations for political cronyism and mismanagement. Until the situation is improved, taxpayer dollars will continue to be wasted and people who are in need will not be helped.

Philadelphia officials are trying to fix the damage Greene has caused, albeit belatedly.

"Director Greene's problems were brought on by his behavior, and now we all will pay the price," says PHA Chairman Street. "The Board's challenge is to fix it ASAP and stop the bleeding while we continue to serve and work to restore our momentum. This must be done with or without Carl Greene."
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