Citing a dramatic improvement in performance in recent years, U. S. Judge Norma L. Shapiro has issued an order ending the federal court's oversight of the Chester Housing Authority (CHA) after 20 years. CHA had been the only remaining housing authority in the nation overseen by a federal judge.
CHA tenants filed suit in the late 1980s against the deplorable conditions under which many public housing residents lived. The suit led to a takeover of the authority by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). When HUD was unsuccessful in producing needed changes, it asked Judge Shapiro to assume oversight herself in June 1994.\"The court finds that the Receivership should terminate, and the governance of CHA returned to a duly constituted Board of Commissioners according to law," writes Judge Shapiro. The order, dated December 31, 2014, keeps the current Board of Commissioners (Sheila Church, Tonya D. Warren, Catherine A. Feminella, Sheridan D. Jones, Jr. and Roderick T. Powell) in place as well as executive director Steven A. Fischer, who has been in charge of the agency for nearly 10 years and is under contract through 2018. Chester Mayor John Linder will have the option of renewing or replacing the board members as their terms expire, one each, over the next five years. Judge Shapiro's order lists several accomplishments that convinced her that CHA can now stand on its own. Recent rounds of HUD inspections of CHA properties resulted in an overall 95% rating; The Housing Choice Voucher Program has been rated as a high performer for the past seven consecutive years; CHA has been recognized by its insurance company for a low loss ratio because its properties have been kept in safe condition with few accident claims; The executive director and general counsel (Maria Zissimos) both serve on national industry boards. Judge Shapiro also notes that the commissioners undergo intensive training (most recently in 2014) "to add to their credentials and qualifications to oversee a Housing Authority."In the order, Shapiro credits the former Judicial Administrator for Development, Robert C. Rosenberg, for overseeing the rebuilding of CHA's older housing sites. She cites Fischer for performing in an excellent manner in fulfilling all of the court's requirements."Significant progress has been made to transform CHA into a functioning housing authority, providing decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings to families of low income," Shapiro writes in the court order.The final line of Shapiro's order indicates the judge is not ending ties entirely with CHA, writing, "The court will retain jurisdiction over this action to enforce its terms and conditions."