The resignation of the city’s housing commissioner last week underscored the importance of the office–as a waiting room for up-and-coming bureaucrats biding their time until a better job comes along.
At least that’s the perception of several leaders in the nonprofit community housing sector who say they are worried the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has fallen completely off the mayor’s agenda.
Last week, HPD commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli announced she would take the reins of the Human Resources Administration, the city’s welfare agency, late next month. Barrios-Paoli, the city’s former personnel director, replaced Deborah Wright last April after Wright resigned from HPD to become director of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.
“If you’re really going to build a system for the oversight and development of housing in New York, you really want somebody who has a commitment to being there a while,” said Anne Pasmanick, director of the Community Training and Resource Center, which provides technical assistance to housing groups. “We don’t have a housing plan for New York. Maybe we should get one while we get a new commissioner.”
Barrios-Paoli’s tenure was characterized by a continuation of Wright’s policy of selling off the city’s tax-foreclosed “in rem” buildings as well as the continued hemorrhage of mid-level staff. Last fall, nearly 100 mid-level employees and managers either left the agency or were forced out.
Advocates describe Barrios-Paoli as a fast moving stone who gathered little critical moss as housing commissioner. “She wasn’t around long enough to get any kind of reputation,” said one nonprofit director who has contracts with HPD. “And the agency’s so gutted she didn’t have much to work with anyway.”
“The cultivation of these people is enough to kill you,” said another. “And then they leave.” Last summer, City Limits reported that City Hall had circulated a memo calling for the complete dismantling of the agency.
At HRA, Barrios-Paoli will replace Marva Hammons, who is leaving to take the top welfare job in Michigan. According to a source in state government, City Councilman Antonio Pagan, who lobbied for the HPD job after Wright’s departure, may throw his hat in the ring again.