nycha

Meet NYCHA’s New Boss: A Fan of Private Management of Public Housing

The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City
The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The city’s housing authority is about to get a new chairperson: Gregory Russ, head of the much smaller Minneapolis system and a major champion of turning over public housing management to private developers, THE CITY has learned.

Russ currently oversees 6,259 public housing units with 10,500 residents, plus another 15,500 tenants in private apartments receiving taxpayer-subsidized housing vouchers known as Section 8.

That’s a tiny fraction of NYCHA, the biggest public housing operation in the nation, with more than 400,000 tenants living in city developments and another 200,000 receiving Section 8 aid. By way of comparison, some 422,000 people live in all of Minneapolis.

Marcy Miranda, a de Blasio spokesperson, said Monday that “no decision has been made on any candidate.”

But sources familiar with the selection process told THE CITY Russ was picked late last week by de Blasio from a list of candidates vetted by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman and U.S. Housing Secretary Benjamin Carson as part of a deal signed in January to address NYCHA’s history of management failures.

Spokespeople for Berman and Carson declined to comment.

Gregory Russ, who is expected to be come NYCHA's next chairperson
Gregory Russ, who is expected to be come NYCHA’s next chairperson Photo: Minneapolis Public Housing Authority

The appointment of Russ, who also previously oversaw public housing in Cambridge, Mass., is set to be announced this week, the sources said. A new NYCHA chair was mandated under the January deal, following an investigation by federal prosecutors that uncovered years of NYCHA’s failure to address unsafe conditions, including lead paint, toxic mold and faulty elevators.

The selection came after de Blasio missed two deadlines to pick a chairperson, and after several candidates turned down the job, according to sources familiar with the vetting process.

NYCHA has been without a permanent chairperson since January, when de Blasio’s Sanitation Department commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, took the job temporarily. Garcia said from the start she didn’t intend to serve permanently.

Lead Cleanup Issues Persist

Russ’s expected arrival comes as a new federal monitor, Bart Schwartz — also appointed as part of the January agreement — has begun work, already taking issue with NYCHA’s management. In a recent letter to Garcia, Schwartz chastised what he called NYCHA’s continued failure to properly screen apartments for lead paint.

Russ is known for his early adoption of an Obama-era program known as Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), which turns over management and repairs of public housing to private developers. Housing authorities retain ownership of the buildings.

Mayor de Blasio has been slow to embrace the program, which originated in 2012. In 2015, de Blasio spoke of converting 15,000 units to RAD. But by late 2018 only 1,400 apartments at the Ocean Bay development out in Far Rockaway had been turned over to a developer, Wavecrest.

In December, however, de Blasio announced he was all in with RAD, vowing to convert 62,000 apartments — one-third of NYCHA’s 175,000 units — to the program within 10 years.

When Russ headed the Cambridge Housing Authority, he put all 2,700 public housing apartments into RAD. In 2017, when he became executive director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, he immediately began campaigning to bring in RAD there.

In May 2018, Russ applied for approval by the U.S. Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to convert a 174-unit development called Elliot Twins, one of the authority’s oldest complexes, to RAD. HUD approved the application last year, and renovations are set to begin in June 2020.

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