The head of New York City’s public housing agency is stepping down from the role after roughly three-and-a-half years.
NYCHA Chairman Gregory Russ will formally resign from the position during a board meeting on Thursday, the agency said. His pending resignation was first reported Wednesday morning by news outlet The City.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio named Russ chair and CEO of the city’s sprawling public housing system in August 2019. Russ took the helm as several complexes made a controversial shift to private management through the so-called Rental Assistance Demonstration-Permanent Affordability Commitment Together, or RAD-PACT, plan.
Under Russ, NYCHA introduced another plan to transfer some buildings over to a publicly owned “Preservation Trust” that would switch the source of federal funding for apartments to Section 8. NYCHA faces an estimated $40 billion in capital needs, with the agency projecting a deeper budget gap for the coming year as a result of unpaid rent.
NYCHA and city leaders, including Mayor Eric Adams, said the Preservation Trust and RAD-PACT plans are intended to raise revenue for the cash-strapped agency after decades of disinvestment, but both have faced criticism from residents concerned about privatization, evictions and future conditions. State lawmakers formally enacted the Preservation Trust plan last year.
Nearly 370,000 New Yorkers are authorized to live in the public housing agency’s 177,000 apartments, though many more call NYCHA home.
Bova-Hiatt said Russ took over NYCHA “at a critical juncture” in its history and improved conditions for residents.
“The vision, acumen and unflagging commitment he brought to NYCHA – honed through decades of strengthening public housing authorities across the country – were instrumental in putting NYCHA on solid footing,” she said in a statement.
But Russ’ tenure in the role hasn’t been without controversy.
Throughout his time leading the agency, Russ commuted from his home in Minnesota, where he previously led Minneapolis’ public housing agency. He earned up to $430,000 per year as NYCHA's CEO and chair.
NYCHA separated the positions in September 2022, with Russ remaining chair while Lisa Bova-Hiatt, the agency's former counsel, took over as interim CEO, cutting Russ' salary to $258,000.
During Russ’ time as chair and CEO, NYCHA was subject to heightened federal oversight in the wake of a lead paint scandal. In November, a federal monitor said the agency had made progress in addressing some infrastructure problems.
But NYCHA continues to struggle with major issues, including an arsenic-contaminated water scare at Manhattan’s Jacob Riis Houses last September. Russ left his role as CEO just days after the arsenic alert.
The city, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which imposed NYCHA’s current federal monitorship, will identify and interview potential candidates to replace Russ, according to the agency. Adams will make the final hiring decision for a position tasked with helping set NYCHA policy.
In the meantime, Vice Chair Victor González will preside over board meetings until a new chair is selected.
González, a resident of the Rabbi Stephen Wise Towers on the Upper West Side, has lived in NYCHA housing for 50 years. He is the first NYCHA tenant appointed to the authority’s board of directors and previously served in the Air Force and worked for UPS.
On Wednesday, tenant leaders that they hoped the agency's next chair would be based in New York City and have a better understanding of tenants’ experiences.
“It would be nice to have someone local,” said Andreas Tyre, the president of the Gowanus Houses Tenant Association. “To have someone who grew up in NYCHA and understands the problems and difficulties that residents of NYCHA deal with.”
Danny Barber, president of the Jackson Houses Tenant Association and head of the Citywide Council of Presidents, said he felt that Russ listened to residents’ concerns, even if he pursued privatization plans that many opposed.
“I’m going to miss calling him in the middle of the night,” Barber said. “Out of all the chairs, he’s given me the best fights and the best conversations that lead to me pushing harder to get NYCHA to understand things from a resident’s point of view.”
This story was updated to include additional details over how Russ' successor will be selected and comments from NYCHA's interim CEO and tenant leaders.