At MassHousing, $10K for a send-off tribute

Agency throws pricey party for departing executive 

A clarification has been added to this story to more fully explain the nature of the party.

THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSING Finance Agency has been through a rough patch when it comes to coverage from the Boston Herald. The headline-hungry tabloid has gone after the quasi-public affordable housing agency in one story after another, detailing “lavish” spending on hotel stays, a fleet of cars, and a party costing more than $5,000, all on top of generous salary outlays that have nine employees earning more than $200,000 a year. 

Now add to that tab what looks like a living-large trump card – a bill of nearly $10,000 for a going-away soirée held last fall for MassHousing’s former vice president of external affairs, Thomas Lyons. 

According to information obtained through a public records request to the agency, MassHousing spent $9,545 on a November 18 celebration for Lyons at the University of Massachusetts Club, which is located in the same downtown Boston office building where the housing agency has its offices.  

The charges included $6,265 for hors d’oeuvres, $1,665 for audiovisual and related equipment, a 20 percent venue service charge of $1,380, $100 for bartenders, and $135 for printed invitations. MassHousing also devoted staff time to producing an in-house video about Lyons to show at the event. 

A MassHousing spokesman characterized the event as far more than just a retirement sendoff. “The event you asked about was not a going-away party,” said Paul McMorrow. “It was a celebration of more than three decades of [Lyons’] public service….The agency was proud to provide a forum to celebrate his life’s work.”

McMorrow’s statement noted that Lyons served in the US Marine Corps and spent decades working with veterans, spearheading the creation of the South Boston Vietnam Veterans Memorial, leading the New England Center and Home for Veterans, and serving on the boards of the Brighton Marine Health Center and the Chelsea Soldiers Home.  The party attracted some big-name fans, including Gov. Charlie Baker, US Rep. Stephen Lynch, former Boston mayor Ray Flynn, and General Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lyons was drawing an annual salary of $214,000 when he left. 

Chrystal Kornegay, the executive director of MassHousing, declined comment. 

Former inspector general Gregory Sullivan said quasi-public state agencies need to be reined in. “MassHousing’s spending of nearly $10,000 to throw a going-away party for a departing executive is completely unacceptable,” said Sullivan, who is now director of research at the Pioneer Institute in Boston.  “It’s just one more example of a quasi-public state agency being unaccountable to the taxpayers. It must stop.” 

Meet the Author
Last month, the Herald reported that the agency spent more than $5,000 for a December 2017 holiday party. Following the arrival in February 2018 of new executive director Kornegay, who is paid $270,000 per year, MassHousing shelled out about $5,000 for a welcoming party for her.  

MassHousing officials emphasize that the agency does not receive any direct funding from state government. Founded by an act of the Legislature in 1966, MassHousing raises money by selling tax-exempt bonds and uses the proceeds to finance low-and moderate-income housing as well as its own operating costs.