Leading the New York City Housing Authority won’t be an easy job, no matter who’s in charge.
But Gregory Russ, whom Mayor Bill de Blasio has chosen to head the authority, will have a steeper learning curve than most.
Russ comes from the Minneapolis Housing Authority, and the Cambridge Housing Authority before that. Minneapolis has about 6,300 apartments under its public housing umbrella. The Cambridge Housing Authority in Massachusetts has 2,700 apartments.
NYCHA has 175,000.
And it’s a stinkin’ mess. Its maintenance problems, from lead paint to mold to perennially broken boilers, and its far larger governance problems, are well known. To turn around NYCHA, it’ll take a strong leader willing to make tough decisions and commit to extensive oversight.
So, it’s a bit concerning that Russ has decided to keep his family in Minneapolis for the next school year, with plans to join them on the weekends when possible.
Russ and City Hall officials say he’s committed to the role in NYC.
Russ must show that commitment from day 1. He must immediately grasp NYCHA’s crisis, including the intractable structural and personnel problems that have plagued the authority and its residents for decades. And Russ, who will earn a stunning $400,000 a year, must be a very public face, reaching out to the residents of public housing and surrounding communities, and making sure the rest of his management team does its job.
NYCHA might very well need to have an outsider as its next chair, and Russ’ willingness to think differently about the role of public-private partnerships in public housing is welcome. Russ brings experience, especially on the Rental Assistance Demonstration program that allows public housing to be managed by private developers and which brings in private capital for repairs. He’ll have many challenges, including dealing with a federal monitor after NYCHA officials failed to adequately test for lead paint or address $32 billion in needed repairs.
About 400,000 residents are counting on him to bring about the change NYCHA desperately needs.