The state agency charged with creating affordable housing has racked up tens of thousands of dollars in spending for parties, junkets and pricey meals, records show, including a $4,808 “welcoming party” for executive director Chrystal Kornegay — who was just appointed to oversee the beleaguered MBTA’s budget.
MassHousing staffers and executives, including Kornegay, have taken dozens of trips to locales such as Las Vegas last year, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Martha’s Vineyard over the past two years, often staying at hotels costing more than $300 a night and sometimes exceeding $400 a night, according to expense records.
Kornegay, who makes $270,000 a year, was appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker last week to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, and to the 11-member MassDOT board. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack cited Kornegay’s “long history” of overseeing budgets and spending.
But records obtained by the Herald show a pattern of lavish spending by MassHousing, both before and after Kornegay took over in February 2018.
The agency, which provides government-backed loans for housing for low- and moderate-income families, paid for a $758 dinner in Denver in October 2017 for 15 staffers and others, who munched on bone marrow, octopus, venison, cactus, beef tartar and scallops, records reveal.
And after Kornegay’s appointment, MassHousing’s vice president of external affairs, Thomas Lyons, threw a party for her at an upscale Beacon Hill restaurant, Carrie Nation. The cost for catering and reserving the space came out to $4,808, which Lyons charged on his credit card and was later reimbursed for, according to expense records obtained by the Herald through a public records request.
Just before Kornegay arrived at MassHousing, in December 2017, the agency spent $5,016 on food for a “holiday party” for staffers, records show. Lyons, who was acting executive director at the time, charged the cost of the party on his credit and later received reimbursement from the agency.
Since arriving at the agency, Kornegay herself has taken trips for conferences and meetings to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Bar Harbor, Maine. In July 2018 the agency picked up the tab for a $43 lobster dinner and $938 for lodging at the Harborside Hotel, Spa and Marina, which has breathtaking waterfront views.
Just a month after her appointment to the MassHousing post, Kornegay took a trip for a conference in Washington, D.C., spending more than $700 in airfare and over $400 a night for a three-night stay at the Hyatt Regency, records show. During the D.C. junket, Kornegay charged the agency for a $273 dinner with Lyons and three other staffers, according to records. Lyons also stayed at the Hyatt Regency, charging the agency for three nights at more than $400 a night.
Other junkets and meals paid for by MassHousing include:
- A five-night stay at The Palazzo in Las Vegas for a conference attended by Kevin Mello, director of home ownership servicing and operations. The total cost of the hotel alone was $1,497. Mello also traveled to conferences in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis, where he spent $45 for a 14-ounce rib-eye steak.
- A conference in Austin, Texas, last year attended by at least 10 MassHousing staffers and executives, who racked up thousands of dollars in airfare, lodging and meals.
- A March 2018 trip to an affordable housing conference at The Westin Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by chief financial officer Charles Karimbakas. The airfare and lodging cost more than $1,000. Karimbakas also charged MassHousing for a $66 lobster cobb salad at the UMass Club in July.
- A July 2018 conference in Edgartown, where a staffer paid $466 for lodging.
- A three-night stay at a luxury hotel in Newport, R.I., Gurney’s Resort, by Mounzer Aylouche, vice president of home ownership programs. The total cost of the stay was $912. Aylouche also traveled to conferences in Austin, Texas, Chicago and Denver.
A spokesman for MassHousing said all the trips and other expenses “were made in accordance with agency policies” and noted that the agency does not use state taxpayer money.
“MassHousing is an entirely self-supporting financial organization; the agency sells bonds to investors, and lends the proceeds to homeowners, and to the developers of affordable rental housing,” spokesman Paul McMorrow said. “Over the past five years, MassHousing has provided $6.1 billion in affordable housing financing for the benefit of nearly 41,000 Massachusetts families, without utilizing any taxpayer funds.”