District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray has tapped housing leader Michael P. Kelly to direct the district’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Due to Kelly’s appointment, current DHCD Director John Hall has been moved to a newly created position as senior advisor for Housing to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED).
“Affordable housing is an issue of utmost importance to a large percentage of District residents, and addressing that issue is a priority for my administration,” Gray said.
“With the team of Michael Kelly and John Hall in place, we will be better equipped to tackle this complex challenge.”
Last Friday, Kelly announced that he was resigning from the Philadelphia Housing Authority due to family responsibilities.
While at the helm of PHA, Kelly was credited for many sweeping reforms. He re-established the Office of General Counsel — which manages PHA’s legal affairs and created the Office of Internal Audit and Compliance to ensure business transitions were compliant.
He headed PHA’s Transition Plan — which aims to establish a culture of respect, accountability and transparency at the agency. Under Kelly, PHA reached a new contract agreement with Building and Construction Trades Council regarding worker’s pensions.
Kelly has decades of experience in urban housing agencies, including service as director of the D.C. Housing Authority from 2000 to 2009. He served as executive director of PHA, at the request of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) while the agency was in administrative receivership and instituting major reforms.
Kelly came to PHA in December 2010 when the authority was in the midst of turmoil. He is credited with maintaining focus and providing uninterrupted service during the Carl Greene controversy.
In 2008, accusations of sexually harassment against PHA Director Carl Greene surfaced. Greene was fired in September 2010 after the board of directors discovered that he used approximately $900,000 of federal funding for multiple sexual harassment lawsuits.
As PHA’s interim executive director, Kelly was on loan from the New York City Housing Authority, based on agreements that he serve both roles while maintaining duties as general manager of NYCHA. In August 2011, Kelly was named permanent executive director at PHA.
Kelly has directed housing agencies in San Francisco and New Orleans as well. Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture and urban planning from Princeton University, a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree in education, also from UC–Berkeley. Kelly, a licensed architect and urban planner, holds a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
In an effort to increase the number of low and affordable housing units by as many as 6,000, the Philadelphia Housing Authority is in the process of rolling out a series of new initiatives aimed at improving the troubled agency’s business reputation.
“PHA is now open for business,” was how Kelvin Jeremiah, the agency’s interim executive director put it. “We’re looking at new strategies to invite people to partner with us. We haven’t always been the best partner.”
He touted the plan as an overhaul of the agency’s image, tarnished under the leadership of former director Carl Greene, who is accused of financial mismanagement.
Jeremiah would not discuss details of what may be the largest part of the agency’s plan, saying only, “In the coming weeks we will be announcing a very ambitious plan to add 6,000 new affordable units in the city.”
But, agency officials recently took two steps toward that goal and plan to announce another major initiative in the next few weeks.
The first was the adoption of a new development policy, approved by Housing Commissioner Estelle Richman last week.
Intended to boost agency transparency, it lays out 21 principles intended to guide PHA in public/private and nonprofit development partnerships, which officials hope will increase.
“For us to really address some of the core difficulties that we have around affordable housing in the city requires that we partner with like-minded organizations,” Jeremiah said. “What we’re trying to do is have a more streamlined and straightforward process.”
For the last decade PHA has been re-designing the city’s public housing stock, dismantling the traditional high-rises — once some of the city’s most notorious centers of crime and violence — and replacing them with scattered sites — small clusters of homes.
The new policy, among other things, promises that PHA residents and those surrounding any potential development will have a voice in the process, any development done in partnership with PHA where the agency is underwriting the majority of financing. Any project must have mixed use housing with low- , moderate- and market rate housing. All projects will have a minimum of 5 percent handicapped accessible units, preference will be given to projects that involve vacant PHA, city, school district, archdiocese or other public agency property.
The policy does not define low- or moderate-income housing. Kyle Flood, director of development, said that is because different projects, funded by different entities, will have different thresholds.
“It really depends on the type of resources that different proposals include,” said Flood, giving as an example a low-income tax credit program that would allow units serving people with an income that is 50 percent of area median income. Others allow families at 80 percent of area median income.
“We kept it purposely open ended to account for that,” he said.
Ultimately, officials hope subsidies from the agency will increase the number of affordable units.
In a related move, Richman also approved a multi-million dollar settlement with the city.
PHA agreed to pay $6.2 million covering the cost of years of work by the Department of Licenses and Inspections. The city hoped to collect about $10 million, a tab that included late fees and other charges, but agreed to accept costs only.
The move erased liens on roughly 2,000 properties, allowing PHA to sell them as it moves forward with development plans.
“Now, we’ll be freer in disposing of properties,” he said.
PHA has a waiting list of 90,000 people who need affordable housing.
“There is a tremendous need for affordable housing,” said Jeremiah.
Another of Philadelphia’s infamous public housing high rises — Norris Homes — has been replaced by an environmentally-friendly apartment complex, the new Norris Apartments.
“The new Norris is a win-win for the residents, the city and the environment — because these houses are modern, sustainable and affordable,” said Michael P. Kelly, administrative receiver/executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, at the recent groundbreaking, adding that the development represented “PHA’s progressive and environmentally conscious approach to affordable housing.”
Housing officials opened the new complex a little more than a year after the wrecking ball demolished the 1950s era high rise at North 11th and West Norris streets in North Philadelphia.
The 51 new units meet the requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification program. The program focuses on five key areas of environmental and human health: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials selection, sustainable site development, and water savings. LEED standards are nationally accepted for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.
Kelly, an architect with a LEED Green Associate Certification, noted that the new development is expected to save about 20 percent in energy costs compared to most conventional developments.
The new development features a small pocket park in the center courtyard that provides green space to residents while limiting rainwater runoff into the city sewer system. The site is also hosting a pilot project with the Philadelphia Water Department to reduce storm water runoff from adjacent streets. The project is in line with the city’s storm water management plan recently approved by the EPA.
The new homes at Norris also have solar hot water panels on the roof, Energy Star windows, equipment and appliances, low-flow plumbing fixtures, compact fluorescent light (CFL) fixtures, and native landscaping. The design of the new development also features cross ventilation. All the topsoil at the site is recycled post-consumer compost, made from recycled food scraps and yard waste which helps reduce landfill waste that creates harmful greenhouse gases.
To meet LEED standards, the agency also used locally made materials for the new Norris as much as possible. This reduced PHA’s “carbon footprint” by reducing the amount of energy it took to transport building materials to the site.
The new, transit-oriented development is located near a variety of educational and retail services. The location is well served by the Broad Street subway, several SEPTA bus routes and Regional Rail lines. Temple University’s main campus and the well-established commercial corridor of Broad Street are also close by.
The new Norris Apartments complement ongoing private housing and commercial development in the neighborhood. There is room at the site to build more homes and Kelly said PHA will evaluate whether to add to the original 51 units at a later date.
There’s a lot being said this week about last Friday’s sudden resignation of PHA Administrative Receiver / Executive Director Michael Kelly. The circumstances surrounding his departure are as old as time itself. A married man has a consensual affair, and trouble inevitably follows.
When I spoke to Kelly on Friday afternoon, he insisted he was stepping down for “family reasons” — one of the oldest partial truths in the political playbook. He admitted, though, that there was more to the story, and that a vital piece of information would probably be revealed after the weekend.
About 10 minutes after I got off the phone with Kelly, Tribune Managing Editor Irv Randolph came into my office, closed the door, and sat down. I told him exactly what Kelly had told me.
“What does your nose tell you?” he asked, newsman’s code for any public statement that doesn’t pass the smell test. We media types, as you may imagine, are lied to quite often. Often enough that most news people have highly sensitive, built-in lie detectors — and mine, like Irv’s, was sending off alarm bells.
But you don’t need to be a walking lie detector to see through this one. Here’s a big, fat clue: any time any politician or political appointee holds a press conference to say he’s stepping down because of “family reasons” — it’s because his wife is about to perform elective surgery on him with a pair of kitchen shears. It’s not exactly a lie, but it’s nowhere close to the whole truth.
Sure, the dutiful wife might be standing right there beside him at the press conference, her face frozen in a tight, joyless smile; but inside she’s planning his torturously long, exceedingly painful road back to redemption — if indeed he ever makes it that far.
In my previous dealings with Kelly, he struck me as a highly intelligent, competent manager with great ideas and the enthusiasm to get things done. That’s still my opinion of the man. He took an agency that some said was broken beyond repair, and he set about repairing it. I haven’t heard anyone this week say Kelly was anything less than a top-flight administrator — albeit one with obvious personal failings.
From Bill Clinton to Tiger Woods to John Edwards, and going clear back to King David, the list of mighty men brought low is endless — and almost always for the same reason.
So what is it? What accounts for the adult male’s seeming inability to resist temptation? Poor impulse control? Some irresistible animal instinct?
If I knew the answer to that, I’d make a fortune on the talk show circuit.
I just know that Michael Kelly isn’t the first, and won’t be the last.
And that’s a shame, because it immediately puts him in the same loathsome category as his sleazy, serial groping predecessor, which is a bit unfair. Carl Greene was a man of wild appetites and outrageous behavior. Kelly simply fell into the oldest trick bag in history: thinking you’ll get away with it, and everything will be fine as long as the wife doesn’t find out.
And while we’re on that subject, here’s another inconvenient truth for you: The wife always finds out. Maybe not right away, but she always finds out. Always. (Wives have built-in lie detectors too.)
In the end, nobody wins.
Talented managers are forced to resign, leaving the taxpayers with who-knows-who as a replacement; families are unnecessarily humiliated; and leadership is forced to scramble to find someone willing and able to take on a difficult task while their every move is monitored for public consumption.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not absolving Michael Kelly, or Tiger Woods, or Bill Clinton of blame or personal responsibility here. They had choices, and knew the consequences, but chose poorly anyway. That’s life.
I’m just saying that the entire sordid spectacle of shame and stupidity played simply for public titillation has gotten old. As long as there have been marriages, there have been people who step out on their spouses, the vast majority of whom never make the news.
It’s one thing if the offender has stained their oath of office, or misused taxpayer funds, or has in some other way violated the public trust. But if the only aggrieved party is the person’s family, I’d just as soon leave they leave the private life at home.
Which is where, in my opinion, Kelly and all the other men like him should face their judgment: at home, at the hands of their wives. And let the punishment fit the crime.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
In a move that heralds the end of a federal takeover of the Philadelphia Housing Authority nearly two years ago, Mayor Michael Nutter has submitted the names of nine prospective members of a newly reconstituted board for City Council’s approval.
Hopes are a new board can assume control by March.
“It’s a step forward in terms of accountability,” said Council President Darrell Clarke. “Now the governing body of the City of the Philadelphia, ultimately, will have the responsibility of the placement of board members. So, the buck stops with us.”
Clarke submitted the nine names to his colleagues on Council Thursday morning.
They were: Joan Markman, the city of Philadelphia’s chief integrity officer; Lynette Brown-Sow, vice president of marketing and communications for the Community College of Philadelphia; Nelson Diaz, a former city solicitor, Common Pleas Court judge and general counsel for HUD; Herbert Wetzel, former executive director of the Redevelopment Authority and now a housing expert for City Council; the Rev. Leslie Callahan, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in North Philadelphia; Rev. Bonnie Camarda, director of partnerships for the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia; Shellie Jackson, a PHA tenant who lives at the Hill Creek Apartments in Northeast Philadelphia; Vernell Tate, also a PHA resident and president of the tenant council at the Spring Garden Apartments and Kenneth A. Murphy, a partner at the law firm of Drinker Biddle.
Clarke expects confirmation by council’s Dec. 13 meeting, the last session of this year.
“We hope this locally controlled board will be able to work with other housing and housing related agencies in the city to create for the first time a truly consolidated plan and approach for affordable housing,” said Mark McDonald, Nutter’s spokesman.
The previous five-member board was forced out in early 2011 after a string of scandals rocked the housing authority. It was composed of five members – two chosen by the mayor, two by the city controller and one resident. That board was replaced by a single federally appointed commissioner, chosen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to Clarke, seven of the new board members will be chosen by the mayor and confirmed by council. The remaining two will be chosen in elections by PHA residents.
Jackson and Tate were nominated this week as interim resident representatives. Clarke said. They will serve until elections can be set up to choose replacements.
“The mayor and the Council President Clarke have taken a critically important step in the process of returning the authority to local control after nearly two years in receivership,” said Housing Commissioner Estelle Richman and Interim Executive Director Kelvin A. Jeremiah, in a joint statement. “The choice of these members demonstrates that PHA will operate with the highest ethical standards in the years to come, thus ensuring that the ethical violations of the past do not recur.”
HUD officials made more local accountability one of the conditions of a return to local control.
The authority has been in turmoil since the summer of 2010 after former director Carl Greene was fired amid allegations of financial mismanagement and sexual harassment. Among the allegations were that Greene misled the board as to the agency’s spending.
Federal officials are still in the process of determining how much in federal funding PHA should return to the federal government.
Since Greene’s departure, another director, Michael Kelly, has also come and gone, tainted by scandal. Jeremiah replaced him.
Michael P. Kelly announced his resignation as director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority last Friday.
On Monday it was announced that District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray has tapped Kelly to direct the district’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
“Frankly, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, “Kelly told the Tribune Friday when asked about his resignation. “Believe me; it has nothing to do with politics, or with the public officials and the citizens of Philadelphia. Mayor Nutter has been very gracious, and I’ve had positive experience with city council. I’m thankful for my time here in Philadelphia, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
“It really was a personal, painful decision for family reasons,” he said. “I know that sounds like a typical politician’s line, but it happens to be true.”
When the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accepted Kelly’s resignation it also announced that Estelle Richman, a senior adviser to the HUD secretary, will replace Karen Newton-Cole, the agency’s one-person board chair.
Richman served as the lone authority board commissioner when HUD placed the housing authority in receivership last year. She will be returning to that role.
When Kelly arrived at PHA in December 2010 it was during a period of major upheaval for an agency rocked by scandal.
Kelly took over the agency after his predecessor, Carl R. Greene, was fired in September 2010 after the board of directors discovered that Greene used approximately $900,000 of federal money for multiple sexual-harassment complaint settlements.
He brought more than 30 years of public experience from other cities like New York, San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.
Kelly has been credited with reforms and bringing stability to PHA, which provides homes for 80,000 low-income people and has an annual budget of $400 million.
Kelly headed PHA’s Transition Plan — which established a culture of respect, accountability and transparency at the agency. A zero tolerance policy was instituted, and employees were held to new ethical policies and procedures.
It would have been good if Kelly could have stayed longer to provide even more stability to an agency still recovering from Greene’s tenure.
In the interim, Kelly will be replaced by Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA’s current director of audit and compliance. A national search will be launched to find a new executive director, said Newton-Cole.
PHA should search for a director who is committed to continuing the kinds of reform that Kelly brought to the housing agency.
Kelvin Jeremiah takes helm at troubled housing agency
The Philadelphia Housing Authority has a new director – Kelvin Jeremiah, the agency’s interim director for nearly a year – has been selected by federal officials to occupy the post on a more permanent basis.
“I am thrilled to be remaining at PHA and working with Mayor [Michael] Nutter, the City Council, the board, residents and the resilient staff of PHA in meeting the needs of the nearly 80,000 Philadelphians we serve,” Jeremiah said in a statement.
His appointment was announced Thursday afternoon.
Jeremiah replaces Michael Kelly, who headed the agency in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding former director Carl Greene, who was fired in 2011 amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. Greene recently settled a wrongful termination suit against PHA winning a $625,000 settlement. Kelly, too, left under a cloud, departing after an extramarital affair with a staffer was revealed.
Jeremiah said it’s time for PHA to put those incidents behind it.
“I am excited about PHA’s future and the important work that lies ahead in rebuilding public confidence in PHA and helping the agency to meet its mission of providing decent, safe and well-maintained housing for residents of this great city,” he said.
His appointment was first step toward returning PHA from federal to local control. A newly appointed board is expected to meet next month. It will take authority from a one-person board, led by a federal housing official, which has led the agency since late 2011.
Jeremiah will also serve as the federal Administrative Receiver until the new nine-member board takes over.
“Kelvin’s passion, integrity and commitment make him the best person to continue to move PHA forward,” said Estelle Richman, PHA’s Board of Commissioner. “I am confident that this decision is not just good for the agency, but also for the City of Philadelphia. We believe this is a major step for PHA to return to local control.”
Mayor Michael A. Nutter agreed.
“In the short time that Kelvin Jeremiah has been with PHA, he has been an outstanding leader for the authority. He helped restore ethics, integrity and pride in working at PHA,” Nutter said. “With his staff, he’s developed a plan to build 6,000 affordable housing units over the next five years and he’s working to create good relations with other city agencies involved in coordinating affordable housing policy. I am very pleased with his selection as President and CEO and I look forward to working with him.”
Jeremiah joined PHA in 2011 and previously held the position of director for the Office of Audit and Compliance (formerly the Office of the Inspector General).
Prior to joining PHA, Jeremiah was the Inspector General for the New York City Housing Authority, the nation’s largest public housing authority, with a portfolio of 178,000 units housing over 450,000 residents, and a Housing Choice Voucher program with nearly 100,000 participating families.
Born in Grenada, Jeremiah immigrated to the United States as a teenager and lived with his family in New York City, attending New York City Public Schools. He received a bachelor’s degree in history/business administration from Pace University, a master of arts in American social history from Rutgers University, and a master of public administration from American International College.
African Americans will benefit from a recent deal between 49 states and the nation’s five biggest mortgage lenders that will reduce mortgages for about 1 million households facing foreclosure, said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, at an appearance in Philadelphia on Friday.
“This is important for all families, but minority communities were particularly hard hit by this crisis,” Donovan said. “Between 2005 and 2009, Hispanic families lost two-thirds of their wealth. African-American families, close to half of their wealth, just in those four years — so we have to start rebuilding equity. We have to start giving hope to the communities that were hardest hit by these crises.”
Donovan, head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, also commented on Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget — calling it “shortsighted” — and the federal takeover of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
The HUD secretary was in town to speak at the White House Community Partnership Summit held on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Similar summits are being held in 12 cities across the country as a follow up to a series of community roundtables last year.
The topic was the housing crisis, and the Obama administration’s efforts to deal with it.
Cheering a $25 billion deal reached three weeks ago in which the country’s biggest banks agreed to trim mortgages, Donovan said it would help insure that the same mistakes would not be made again.
“It’s not only helping right the wrongs of the past,” he said. “It’s also making sure those wrongs don’t happen again. We can’t have the same lost paperwork, the same run-around, the same excuses that led us into this crisis.”
The deal was the first time any of the major lenders had been held accountable, Donovan said, and it directly benefits homeowners.
“We’re going to demand that these institutions start writing down principal,” he said. “The single most important step is principal reduction in the history of this crisis.”
Under the terms of the deal, lenders will also be required to send checks of $2,000 to about 750,000 Americans who were improperly foreclosed upon. They have 3 years to comply.
Both moves will benefit minority communities.
“They can start building their lives and their communities again,” said Donovan.
The deal also provides $3 billion that will go to states for “community recovery.” Pennsylvania is slated to get $70 million.
Administration officials are pushing for more, he said, seeking congressional cooperation to give all U.S. homeowners, whether their mortgages are underwater or not and regardless of who their lender was, a chance to refinance and to keep investigating the process by which loans were originated, and then sold as securities.
“That will finally turn a page on this era of recklessness,” he said.
All of the administration’s efforts should prove that government is there to serve the needs of the people, he said.
“We’re not only making progress, we’re demonstrating to the American people that their institutions, their leaders can be part of the solution,” Donovan said. “Republicans and Democrats, from every part of this country — and we can solve big problems again.”
Donovan called Corbett’s budget, which slashed funding for social services programs by 20 percent, “shortsighted.”
According to city officials, housing programs will be among those cut under Corbett’s proposal.
“We now know that when target funding correctly, when we partner between housing and service funding correctly, not only do we save people’s lives … we actually save money,” he said. “It would clearly be shortsighted to cut those investments down.”
Speaking about reforms at PHA, Donovan said the federal government wants to wrap up its investigation, make the results public, and be sure the agency will be more transparent.
This week marks the first anniversary of a federal takeover of PHA, which was expected to last a year. However, this week federal and state officials signed an agreement that will keep the housing agency under federal control for a few more months.
Former Philadelphia public housing director Carl Greene has settled his wrongful firing lawsuit for $625,000.
Greene had argued he was wrongly fired in 2010 over political rivalries and personal embarrassments. The Philadelphia Housing Authority said personal problems affected his job performance.
An authority lawyer said at a trial that recessed earlier this month that settling four sexual harassment lawsuits against Greene cost the authority $900,000, and tax liens and a threatened foreclosure on his home were an embarrassment to an agency trying to collect rent from public housing residents.
Greene was seeking nearly $1 million in lost salary and benefits, plus damages. During the trial, Greene told U.S. Judge Ronald Buckwalter that the Philadelphia Housing Authority board that fired him was made up of absentee members who used their positions to advance their own narrow interests.
He saved his most damning words for former Mayor John F. Street.
“It was really an absentee board,” Greene said. “Each board member had their own interests.”
The PHA board at the time was made up of Street, who served as chairman, and members Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; Debra Brady, wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady; Patrick Eiding, head of the local AFL-CIO and Philadelphia Housing Authority resident Nellie Reynolds, fired Greene on Sept. 23, 2010.
Greene had said very little about the firing. The trial gave him an opportunity to convey his feelings and he did so freely. In a lengthy, sometimes rambling testimony, Greene gave Buckwalter thumbnail sketches of each of the board members.
His depiction of Street was arguably the most scathing, portraying the former mayor as a man who tried to use his position to secure a job for his son, attorney Sharif Street, and as a platform to maintain a position in city politics after he left the mayor’s office.
“I never trusted him,” Greene said, testifying that he and Street had an “unhealthy” relationship.
Greene said Street was looking for a position that would allow him to maintain his political influence.
“It created a certain dynamic that wasn’t helpful for me,” Greene said.
In addition, Street pressed Greene to force the PHA to hire an assistant. Greene said he didn’t approve because Street spent a maximum of six hours a month on agency business.
“I felt it was a violation of my duty to protect the assets of PHA,” Greene said.
Greene said he felt trapped between Street and Nutter.
After the news broke that Greene owed back taxes and was behind on his mortgage payments, Street and Greene stopped speaking.
“I never spoke to John Street after Aug. 23,” Greene said.
As for the other board members, Greene said he had the most cordial relationship with Blackwell, though her primary concern as a board member revolved around her personal efforts to help individuals in terms of housing. or jobs, or her advocacy for the homeless. She had little influence on the day-to-day operations of the PHA.
“She was the chief person who was there for me,” Greene said, adding that the two still talk occasionally.
Brady was largely unconcerned about agency business, he said, except where it affected contracts with her employer, who had a contract with the PHA.
“It was a Philadelphia-style deal. It wasn’t something that was written down anywhere,” said Greene. “It was part of the political process here in Philadelphia.”
Otherwise, she rarely attended meetings, he said, estimating maybe once a year.
Eiding’s only concern was PHA’s interactions with the unions, Greene said, noting, “He was not keeping two hats.”
Reynolds was typically concerned only with conditions in the development that she lived in, or if matters affected her son or daughter, both of whom worked for the authority.
“She was very narrow in her interests,” Greene said. “Her interests were her car, her driver, her development and her family.”
The 56-year-old Greene also revealed a great deal about himself, telling Buckwalter about his childhood, being raised by a single mother in Washington D.C.’s public housing projects where he was the seventh of eight children and the first in his family to graduate from college. Greene’s left arm was paralyzed playing high school football. Since then he’s been on painkillers and anti-depressants.
Greene now lives in Decatur, Ga. He continues to be unemployed. His termination and the circumstances surrounding it left him feeling “abandoned and isolated.”
“Things were catching up with me, and I didn’t have any support,” he said. “I felt a personal sense of collapse.”
If you ask Philadelphia Housing Authority President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah, he’ll tell you the death threats, union battles and the enemies he’s made, are proof that he’s doing something right.
If enforcing much needed and long-overdue reforms at the housing authority — which Jeremiah admits has a long history of corruption, graft and outright theft — angers the status-quo, Jeremiah, who became PHA chief in June of 2012, seems up for the task.
A native of Grenada, Jeremiah migrated to the states with his mother when he was 12. He received a bachelor’s in history/business administration from Pace University, a Master of Arts in American Social History from Rutgers University, and a Master of Public Administration from American International College.
Before becoming PHA’s top executive, Jeremiah served as the agency’s first-ever Director of Audit and Compliance. Jeremiah comes to PHA after a successful stint as Inspector General for the New York City Housing Authority.
“Primarily, [one of my tasks were] to address the several outstanding Housing and Urban Development/Office of the Inspector General findings, relating to how we administer our Section 8 program, or what is now known as the Housing Choice Voucher program, and of course, the issues with the ongoing criminal investigation into the [administration of former PHA President Carl Greene by the U.S. Attorney General’s office],” Jeremiah said. “It has been a long road. A difficult investigation to have and to be involved in, and I’m hopeful it will be ended soon.
“The agency was broken at its core. The policies and procedural infrastructure of the organization as nonexistent,” Jeremiah continued. “And you had policies and procedures in writing that were never adhered to, and you had a culture of what I would like to call ‘splurge’ and bad behavior.”
Jeremiah said that while Philadelphia’s public housing situation isn’t unlike that of many other large cities, the investigation into PHA contained “hot-button” topics such as illicit sex, discrimination, employee abuse and theft of government funds.
“And when you look at the kind of perks and benefits PHA was offering, primarily to key staff and executives, I have never seen anything like that in my public experience,” Jeremiah said. “From mortgage assistance for executives who are making in excess of $150,000 and dependent child care on the agencies’ dime, to $3 million for a catering contract to provide hot meals. You had a lot of that kind of behavior that undermined the public’s confidence in PHA, and I’d say rightfully so.”
Jeremiah is keenly aware that PHA has dug itself into a hole — both with residents, upset at the quality of housing and community services offered by the agency, and with vendors, many of whom grew tired with the agency’s stiff tactics and apparent rudderless leadership — and has embarked on a multi-pronged approach to right the agency’s ship.
The plan includes sweeping reforms, establishing a better pre-apprenticeship-to-employment pipeline for PHA residents and following through on an ambitious “6 in 5” plan, in which the agency will build 6,000 new units within five years.
The agency recently issued a Request For Proposals for bids on the project.
“The first thing was, obviously, to address the kind of culture of splurge that existed, that kind of wasteful spending of government funds. So that $3 million contract was cut for catering services and we eliminated take-home privileges,” Jeremiah said. “We had folks driving very nice PHA vehicles that didn’t really use them for work, but used them to run their personal errands, so we took that away as well. We eliminated dependent care and made it a tax-deductible benefit one can elect to have on their dime, which I thought was appropriate. We eliminated the use of PHA vehicles for anything but PHA business.
“We also separated from a number of key executives who have been with PHA for a number of years to begin to change [the culture].”
While that set a certain tone within PHA, without, Jeremiah found his very life threatened when he took a reformist stance with the unions. Things came to a head, Jeremiah said, when he took a hard look at the contracts and concessions PHA has made with the unions, particularly with the painters, carpenters and electricians.
That conflict was further acerbated when Jeremiah brought in-house the pre-apprenticeship program that was at one point ran by the unions, which were paid millions of dollars to train and certify PHA residents and provide them with union cards.
“The unions made every attempt to get rid of me when I simply pointed out that PHA, over the last 13 years, paid an extra $130 million to the unions that they were not otherwise entitled to, or when I questioned their commitment to providing jobs for minorities, or questioned the types of benefits payments we were making,” Jeremiah said. “I consider myself an executive who makes informed, data-driven decisions, and so I looked at the pre-apprenticeship program that was celebrated across the country. In the pre-apprenticeship program, we’ve graduated 829 PHA residents, and 400 of them passed union test, but only 237 received union cards.
“When you ask how many of those received union jobs, the number was startling to me,” Jeremiah continued. “It was less than 100.”
Jeremiah said he immediately sought to reform the pre-apprenticeship program, which has now been in place for several weeks. Part of the reform includes a renewed commitment to hire every PHA resident who graduates the program and strengthening the pipeline.
That decision, while it may have hurt the unions’ feelings, did wonders for PHA’s bottom line and the morale of its roughly 80,000 residents. Where PHA once paid millions to outside contracts for the pre-apprenticeship program — which netted indifferent results — it is only costing the agency roughly $150,000 to run the revamped program.
PHA has partnered with Painters Union DC 21 (which overcame prior issues with PHA), Maintenance Mechanics Local32BJ and Laborers Local 332 for the program, with the goal of having at least 25 percent of PHA’s workforce comprised of PHA residents.
Another significant portion of PHA’s makeover is community outreach. PHA — the fourth-largest such agency in the nation — has committed millions to various community development programs.
“Our priority is to ensure that our residents have the opportunity to learn important skills and, most importantly, build a career so they can work toward self-sufficiency,” Jeremiah said. “The new pre-apprenticeship program emphasizes outcomes and seeks to correct the original program’s shortcomings in job placement and retention.
According to the agency, applicants must past a background and drug check, and students, once accepted, are not permitted to miss more than two days of instructions. Participants will earn $7.25 an hour while in the pre-apprenticeship program, and between $11.92 and $12.50 an hour when they graduate.
Apprenticeships with the maintenance mechanics last for three years, while the apprenticeship with the painters and laborers run for two.
“I have weekly meetings just on the program because it’s quite frankly just that important to me, because it is, in my view, a real game-changer,” Jeremiah said. “We cannot afford people economic mobility if we don’t give them real opportunities to have a gainful, sustainable wage. We’re tying all of those things to what we are doing in terms of community outreach and community programming for our residents.”