CHA to return all security deposits

by bill cunningham

THURSDAY, JANUARY 23—The Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) will no longer ask its tenants for security deposits. Not only that, CHA intends to refund all security deposits that tenants have already paid. Last night the Board of Commissioners approved this new policy. CHA expects to mail out refund checks between February 15 and March 31.

Site managers will probably be asked to be involved in the process, notifying residents and making sure they get their refunds.

However Commissioner Elaine DeRosa raised this question: Mailing checks would disadvantage residents without bank accounts. People without bank accounts are forced to pay fees to get their checks cashed. Executive Director Michael Johnston responded that they should be open to finding other ways to make the refunds, including cash.

Only those households who live in properties that are owned and/or managed by the CHA will receive these refunds. At this point, tenants with CHA vouchers are not included, because their security deposits are not held by CHA but by the owners of the buildings where they live.

What brought the CHA to this decision?

CHA staff analyzed the agency’s experience over the past ten years. Their findings were presented in a three-page memo, “Elimination of Security Deposits: The business case for the elimination of security deposits at CHA.” It concluded “that [we pay] five times more in expenses to maintain the security deposits than the benefits the deposits provide.” 

In presenting the staff findings and recommendation, CHA Asset Manager Andrew Kerivan remarked that “by and large our tenants are very good tenants,” — so the agency seldom has to apply security deposits to repair damages when households move out.

Now we have to wonder if the CHA move will prompt other property managers to take a second look at their own security deposit practices—from a business point of view, of course. This should particularly interest those nonprofits who also serve lower-income tenants—often with the help of vouchers issued by the CHA.