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Pay at top riles Chelsea tenants

Public housing residents say complaints ignored

Maria Gonzalez said she was told money is not available to pay for certain repairs at the Scrivano Apartments in Chelsea. Maria Gonzalez said she was told money is not available to pay for certain repairs at the Scrivano Apartments in Chelsea. (PHOTOS BY DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF)
By Travis Andersen and Katheleen Conti
Globe Staff / November 7, 2011
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CHELSEA - Residents of the Scrivano Apartments, one of several managed by the Chelsea Housing Authority, say they already had plenty to complain about, from rodent infestations to cracked walls. Then news broke that the authority’s executive director, Michael E. McLaughlin, had concealed his real salary: $360,000.

“I think it’s outrageous,’’ said Danielle Gallant.

That was the view yesterday among tenants interviewed in the aftermath of McLaughlin’s resignation last week, and the public outcry following a series of Globe reports on his income.

Gallant and her boyfriend, Gene Vose, who are both 26, said during an interview yesterday in their two-bedroom apartment that McLaughlin’s lavish pay was especially jarring considering that the authority raised their monthly rent earlier this year from $485 to about $635, after accusing them of underreporting their federal disability benefits, a charge they deny.

“They’re so fast to go after the tenants,’’ said Gallant, who has a young son and is due to give birth to another child next month.

Maria Gonzalez, 41, said she learned about McLaughlin’s salary Saturday from a neighbor. She said she was surprised, because workers have told her funding is not available to pay for certain repairs, including drafty windows, or to exterminate cockroaches and mice.

“And now they said they want to charge [tenants] for anything they fix,’’ said Gonzalez, a tenant for 14 years. “He doesn’t deserve [that salary].’’

McLaughlin did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Henry Cordero, chairman of the authority’s board of commissioners, disputed Gonzalez’s contention about maintenance fees. He said in a phone interview yesterday that tenants have to pay only for repairs on damage that they have caused.

Regarding disputes surrounding rent, Cordero said tenants can avoid unjust increases by submitting the proper paperwork to the authority.

Last week, following a call for his resignation from Governor Deval Patrick, McLaughlin caused another uproar on his final day on the job, ordering an office accountant to cut him three checks worth more than $200,000 for unused vacation time and other perks.

State officials ordered the authority to stop payments on the checks. He had already cashed one, for more than $80,000, and they have pledged to try to recoup that sum.

McLaughlin acknowledged to the Globe that he reported earning only a $160,000 salary to state housing officials, attributing the false claim to the “rebel in me.’’

State and federal officials are investigating his pay package, which was believed to be the highest of any affordable housing director in the country.

Angel Rodriguez, 70, a tenant at Scrivano, said yesterday that he had met McLaughlin twice, and the former state representative seemed personable.

He said McLaughlin took his side in a dispute with a worker who had chided him for calling the police about a disagreement that he had with teenage neighbors.

But Rodriguez has problems in his apartment and said he has complained to local, state, and federal authorities, to no avail.

“I [said] that they don’t clean, that there’s no maintenance, and that the cockroaches are running rampant,’’ said Rodriguez, who has lived in his unit for five years. “When it snows here, they don’t plow. I also [said] that at times it smells like dead rat here.’’

Cordero, the board chairman, said it was his understanding that staff responds to all maintenance requests promptly.

He also said that in his six or seven years as chairman, he has never received a complaint from a tenant. Tenants have his contact information, he said, and he also visits the developments to speak with them.

Ahmad Barakati, another tenant, was incredulous when a Globe reporter informed him of McLaughlin’s pay package.

“It’s shocking given that low-income people live here,’’ he said. “Sometimes we call for repairs and they say they don’t have the budget for that. Sometimes they can’t paint.’’

He has lived in his three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment since 2004 with his mother, brother, and two sisters. They pay around $800 a month in rent, except in the summer, when the rent jumps to $1,100 when the siblings are on break from college and working, said one of his sisters, Sameera Barakati.

Residents of the housing authority apartments were not the only ones upset about McLaughlin’s pay.

City residents in the downtown area slammed McLaughlin’s pay package yesterday, including Hank Hedryk, 81, who said he had worked as a speech translator for John Brennan, a former Chelsea mayor.

“I’m very disgusted with what’s going on,’’ Hedryk said. “There’s no control at all. I was shocked when I read this in the Globe.’’

John Tarrant, 64, said he was bewildered by the controversy.

“I heard that he turned a $160,000 salary into a $360,000 salary,’’ Tarrant said. “I don’t know how he did it. I guess they’re investigating the guy . . . Things are better in this city [after a corrupt past]. This surprises me a little.’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.

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