Connect with us
ADVERTISEMENT

Home Maintenance

High Flying NYCHA Chair Greg Russ Announces Resignation

ADVERTISEMENT

Chairman Gregory Russ is set to announce Thursday that he is stepping down from his high-paying job running the beleaguered New York City Housing Authority.

Russ was known for masterminding a financial rescue plan for NYCHA—and for an unusually generous compensation deal that allowed him to commute regularly to his Midwest home while giving him an apartment in a luxury Tribeca high-rise.

With Russ gone, six-figure payouts for NYCHA’s chair are expected to become a thing of the past: A plan is now underway to make the job strictly voluntary, with a minimal monthly stipend of $250 to attend the authority’s board meetings.

During his three years at NYCHA, Russ first collected an extraordinary salary of $414,000 to $430,000 while serving as both CEO and chairman of the nation’s largest housing authority.

When NYCHA split his dual role last fall and he became chairman only, his salary dropped to $258,000 — still the same as Mayor Eric Adams’s, and slightly more than Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $250,000 paycheck.

On Tuesday, a top official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) confirmed that there is a plan to eliminate the handsome salary for the chair and make the job a voluntary appointment.

In response to THE CITY’s inquiry, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, administrator of the HUD regional office overseeing New York, wrote in an email that HUD, NYCHA, federal prosecutors and the federal monitor overseeing NYCHA , discusses “the chairmanship of NYCHA becoming part-time and compensated through a stipend.

“By allowing NYCHA’s Chair to be part-time, NYCHA’s management reflects the norm for the public housing industry to have a part-time chair,” Ampry-Samuel wrote, noting that the timing of the change and details of the fellowship “are still under discussion.”

She noted that the appointment of a new chairman by Adams must be approved by HUD and federal prosecutors.

Russ did not respond to a request to be interviewed.

Minneapolis to Marcy Avenue

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio lured Russ from his job running the Minneapolis Housing Authority in August 2019. As NYCHA chairman and CEO, Russ was able to receive the big paycheck because it was funded by two levels of government: $240,728 from the city and another $161,900 from HUD. He subsequently received modest cost-of-living increases awarded to all NYCHA executives.

The unusual HUD grant allowed Russ to fund a bi-city lifestyle: he never moved his family from Minneapolis to New York, but instead traveled back and forth over the next three years.

And for his time in New York, Russ rented an apartment in an upscale Tribeca high-rise with a doorman, heated pool and valet laundry, where one-bedroom apartments listed last week for $6,000.

His building boasts “advanced health and safety protocols, including extra staff and cleaning, more frequent disinfection, and EPA-listed products and signage”—a contrast to the average public housing building, where toxic mold, lead paint, and broken elevators are often part of the daily life.

In his first two full years at NYCHA, Russ received a flat salary of $414,707, but in 2022 it increased more than $16,000 to $430,977, according to city salary records. NYCHA spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio says Russ had only received about $7,000 in extra pay for moving and travel expenses during his tenure, and that he paid for the majority of his own commutes to and from the Midwest.

Mixed report card

NYCHA, by far the largest public housing authority in the country, with 177,000 apartments and 450,000 tenants, has long been an outlier in the way it pays its chair. Most chairmen of housing authorities across the country are volunteers, HUD officials note.

The decision to make New York’s chair voluntary comes out of an investigation by the Manhattan US Attorney that documented years of mismanagement and cover-ups of squalid conditions and led to the appointment of a monitor in 2019 and an agreement to reshuffle top management.

In March 2021, NYCHA presented a transformation plan that first floated the idea, noting that the authority “may propose that the chair, as with all NYCHA directors, become an unpaid, part-time position appointed by the mayor.”

After NYCHA split the CEO and chairman positions in September, NYCHA began discussions with HUD, Adams and the US Department of Justice about changing the chairman’s role.

ADVERTISEMENT

Russ arrived at NYCHA in the summer of 2019 at a particularly tumultuous time for the authority. Months earlier, former prosecutor Bart Schwartz had begun his work as monitor, and the authority’s promised timeline of specific reforms began.

During Russ’ tenure, NYCHA has made an aggressive effort to clean lead paint from tens of thousands of apartments where young children live. NYCHA also succeeded in upgrading ventilation systems in dozens of developments in an effort to reduce the moisture build-up in bathrooms that triggers mold.

But a city-funded effort to upgrade hundreds of elevators that are constantly failing has fallen far behind, while the number of pending requests for resident repairs has risen from 582,000 to 681,000 over the past year. The Monitor also reported in September that NYCHA experienced a “significantly higher number of unscheduled heat outages” in the 2021 and 2022 heating seasons from the previous two years.

Recently, NYCHA officials admitted they would not be able to meet the timeline for promised repairs they agreed to in 2019 due to a huge shortfall in rent collection that occurred during the pandemic.

Russ’ biggest achievement was the approval in Albany of his “preservation trust” that will shift financing for 20,000 apartments to federal housing vouchers known as Section 8, a shift that will allow the NYCHA-controlled trust to lend millions to repairs via bond offering. .

The board that will oversee the trust has not been appointed and is not expected to be up and running until later this year, well after Russ’ expected last day in mid-February.