We’re hearing that former Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor will likely be named the new Rhode Island Housing Secretary early this week, after the resignation last week of Josh Saal, who had been in the job for only a few months.
Saal had come under criticism from Rhode Island House and Senate leadership, as Gov. Dan McKee ramped up state efforts to address what has been characterized as an affordable housing crisis.
According to inside sources his likely successor is Pryor, who was brought to Rhode Island by former Gov. Gina Raimondo as Commerce Secretary, and last year lost in a primary election for General Treasurer.
It has been reported that Pryor interviewed for the position, but our sources indicate now that he’ll be appointed Housing Secretary this week.
Affordable Housing has been a front-burner issue for the McKee administration, as homelessness, a tight housing market, rising rents and house prices, and increasing interest rates have all added to what many have called a housing crisis.
Only seven communities in Rhode Island have achieved the state “mandated” threshold of 10 percent of the community’s housing considered affordable. Those standards are tied to median house prices, rental rates, and income levels. Housing Works RI defines affordable for individuals and families as spending less than 30 percent of their income for housing costs, including rent or mortgage, and utilities.
Rhode Island has committed more money for affordable housing, along with funding from the Rhode Island Foundation. That is now leading to some Homeless Shelters to consider purchasing hotels or motels to convert into short-term and permanent housing. Russ Partridge, executive director of the WARM Center in Westerly, has said motels and hotels are the quickest way to address housing needs, with structures already in place, and few if any zoning issues.
When Saal was hired to the housing secretary’s position, he was charged with coordinating various housing programs throughout the state. Both state Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi have been reported as expressing their disappointment over the progress made under his leadership.
Before being named the first Commerce Secretary in Rhode Island (the department previously was called the Department of Economic Development), Pryor served for three and a half years as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education. Previously, he served for five years as Newark, NJ deputy mayor for economic development; chairperson of the Brick City Development Corporation, which he founded in Newark; and president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; and before that as vice president for education at the Partnership for New York City.
Pryor has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and law degree, both from Yale University.