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Former Texas Mayor Emerges as Top Candidate in NYCHA Chief Search

Saul Ramirez speaking on behalf of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment in 2003.
Saul Ramirez speaking on behalf of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment in 2003. Photo: CSPAN

The top candidate to lead NYCHA is Saul Ramirez Jr., a tech company executive who for years ran a Washington group lobbying on behalf of housing authorities nationwide, THE CITY has learned.

Ramirez emerged as the No. 1 choice to take over as NYCHA chairman weeks after a Jan. 30 pact between city and federal authorities that aims to impose new order on a sprawling agency undermined by years of mismanagement and incompetence, according to two sources familiar with the selection process.

Ramirez, a former of mayor of Laredo, Tex. who has past ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Monday.

The city and the feds were supposed to agree on a new NYCHA chair within 60 days. But the deadline passed last month without an announcement. On April 1, de Blasio told NY1’s Errol Louis all parties needed more time to finalize the choice.

Sources familiar with the selection said details of Ramirez’ contract were being worked out. Officials hoped to announce the appointment in the coming weeks, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the selection process.

Ramirez would become the first chairperson in the 84-year history of the nation’s biggest housing authority whose selection had to be pre-approved by the federal government. Until now, the mayor had total say over the appointment.

NYCHA’s New Deal

That all changed last June when Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman filed a civil complaint detailing how NYCHA managers had for years covered up decrepit conditions in the authority’s aging 175,000 apartments – and failed to appropriately address lead paint, toxic mold and busted elevators.

Under the January deal NYCHA and City Hall signed with Berman and Housing Secretary Ben Carson, the mayor can only appoint a chairperson approved by both HUD and the U.S. Attorney while the agreement is in effect.

There is no end date on the agreement.

The new chairperson also will be the first to work with a federally appointed monitor picked last month by the feds to keep an eye on proposed reforms. The monitor, Bart Schwartz, will not run NYCHA’s day-to-day operations, but will have significant say over the authority’s actions as it attempts to remedy years of neglect.

Under the agreement, HUD declared NYCHA in “substantial default” after the authority failed to keep apartments in habitable condition for some 400,000 residents. Funding going forward is dependent on the authority working with HUD to get back on track.

A Long HUD History

Ramirez has a history with both de Blasio and Cuomo. After serving as mayor of Laredo, Tex., Ramirez took a job as a top HUD assistant secretary in 1997 when Cuomo was HUD secretary and de Blasio ran HUD’s New York office. Ramirez was promoted a year later to deputy secretary, and stayed through the end of then-President Bill Clinton’s tenure in 2001.

He did a stint with a private firm providing financing for multi-family housing, then for 15 years represented public housing executives across the nation as CEO of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO).

In that lobbying and advocacy role, Ramirez frequently pressed HUD for changes in regulations and funding. HUD provides about 70% of NYCHA’s operating funds, and nearly all of the money spent on big ticket capital expenditures such as roof repairs and boiler replacements.

Ramirez also demanded HUD back off on some of its public housing oversight.

In an April 2013 letter to then-HUD Deputy Director Maurice Jones, Ramirez argued that because housing authorities were facing financial stress due to federal budget cuts, HUD needed to temporarily suspend a number of oversight requirements he said “overburdened” housing authorities.

That included full management reviews and the filing of a detailed report on all activities, called the Annual Plan. He called that plan “administratively burdensome” and has “very little utility.”

It’s not clear how much Ramirez will be paid if he takes over NYCHA. At NAHRO, he was making $253,441 in 2015, his last full year as CEO there, tax forms show. He is currently president of Global Reconnect, Inc., a telecommunications firm that provides broadband service to lower-income households.

The last full-time NYCHA chairperson, Shola Olatoye, made $231,684 annually before she announced she was leaving in February 2018 after city investigators revealed she’d falsely certified that the authority was performing lead paint inspections required by law.

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