Local housing authorities are taking a "wait and see" attitude toward Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal to drastically revamp the state's public housing system.
The governor's bill, proposed Thursday, hopes to streamline the state's public housing system by eliminating 240 local public housing authorities and replacing them with six regional agencies, each to manage north of 10,000 units.
Patrick said the bill would help modernize the system, which shelters 300,000 low-income families and elderly residents. There are 83,000 public housing units in the state.
Richard Hamblin, Executive Director of the Adams Housing Authority, called it a "tough call" Thursday.
"What you've got is a housing stock that the state owns that they just don't have the finances to maintain," Hamblin said.
The state stepped forward to fill housing gaps for veterans, elderly, handicapped individuals and low-income families in the 70s and 80s, Hamblin said.
Upkeeping that system is an increasing struggle.
"What you're up against is how to maintain the legacy of the previous two generations?" Hamblin said.
The proposal would consolidate public housing management -- including budgeting, planning and administrative functions -- into six central offices. Local communities would retain control over land use and redevelopment decisions.
Exactly how this will look is not entirely decided, said Elizabeth Heyer of the state
"The regions aren't drawn out yet," Heyer said. "But a housing authority can expect to be in a region with its neighbors. ... There's a lot of transitional details that need to be worked through."
The bill would cut some local jobs, Heyer said, but it's "being designed to have a strong local presence and a strong team of local staff to manage housing and be responsive."
Smaller housing authorities would "benefit from staff that will be deployed across the region" and by "access to larger housing authorities," Heyer said.
Hamblin believes the proposal is not without good ideas, but finds it hits upon a classic issue of central versus local control.
"When you start talking about a central [housing authority] that may sit somewhere between here and Worcester, level of service could become problematic," Hamblin said. "Does moving away from local control create a net good? My board has gone on record as saying ‘No.' ... It will be interesting to see how this all plays out."
North Adams and Williamstown housing authority officials withheld comment Thursday, as the bill's potential effect was still being assessed.
Patrick said he hopes an overhaul will "professionalize our public housing system, improving transparency and accountability."
The proposal follows revelations in 2011 that the former head of the Chelsea Housing Authority had been taking home a $360,000 annual salary.
Patrick demanded the resignation of Michael McLaughlin after it was shown he was one of the country's highest-paid public housing officials. McLaughlin stepped down.
Some housing officials elsewhere in the state were quick to reject Patrick's proposal and said they planned to present their own proposal to lawmakers next week.
"This is an overreaction to what happened in Chelsea," said Stephen Merritt, executive director of the Norwood Housing Authority.
Patrick's bill now heads to the Legislature, where it could face skeptical lawmakers.
Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Republican leader in the Massachusetts Senate, said he appreciated Patrick's decision to address the issue of public housing management but questioned whether replacing local housing authorities with larger, centralized bureaucracies is the best approach.
"Productive reform needs to be about more than a power shift to Boston of responsibilities currently handled locally," the Gloucester lawmaker said in a statement.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.