Housing advocates and nonprofit leaders praised Mayor Bill de Blasio’s latest batch of real estate–related appointees last month, saying they would start the march toward fulfilling his affordable housing campaign promises.
Sources said the four new hires — Carl Weisbrod as chair of the City Planning Commission; Shola Olatoye as chair the New York City Housing Authority; Vicki Been, as commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Gary Rodney as head of the Housing Development Corporation — were strong picks to carry out de Blasio’s goal of creating 200,000 affordable units in a decade.
“We’re optimistic that there’s going to be a real plan, with real goals and a real commitment,” said Ted Houghton, the executive director of the nonprofit coalition Supportive Housing Network of New York. “It will be a challenge, but it’s eminently achievable.”
Weisbrod, an industry vet with both public and private sector experience, will have the most influence among the new hires on market-rate developers. That’s because City Planning shapes the city, through selling city land, granting approvals for development projects and rezonings.
Under Mayor Edward Koch, Weisbrod, who co-chaired de Blasio’s transition team, headed the 42nd Street Redevelopment Project. He later led the city’s Economic Development Corp., the Downtown Alliance and Trinity Real Estate.
He most recently served as a partner at real estate consulting firm HR&A, whose clients include the Related Companies, Young Woo & Associates and SL Green Realty. Weisbrod starts his new job this month, a spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, as head of NYCHA, Olatoye — who most recently served as a top executive at Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit that syndicates tax credits for affordable housing developments — is inheriting an organization rife with financial problems. NYCHA, which oversees 400,000 tenants and 178,000 apartments, reportedly has a $60 million budget shortfall and needs $16 billion in capital repairs for its aged towers.
Olatoye also previously worked at HR&A, serving as director. “Public housing helped people in my family. I want it to do the same in the future for others,” Olatoye said.
Vicki Been, de Blasio’s pick as HPD commissioner, is the former director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University. The agency administers the programs that pay for and build affordable housing.
Been, who earned a law degree at NYU and clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun at the U.S. Supreme Court, is considered a land-use expert.
Finally, de Blasio appointed Gary Rodney to preside over the Housing Development Corporation, the city’s affordable-housing financing arm. The son of Haitian immigrants, Rodney comes to City Hall from Omni New York, the firm co-founded by retired baseball slugger Mo Vaughn.
Rodney previously worked at BFC Partners. Don Capoccia, a managing principal with BFC, declined to comment on Rodney’s hiring, but said de Blasio’s entire team “will do phenomenal work.”
“If anybody can execute 200,000 units over 10 years, it’s them,” he said.
If market-rate developers are uncomfortable with City Hall’s new affordable housing emphasis, a fear expressed during the campaign, they are not showing it. The Real Estate Board of New York, the industry’s trade group, is publicly backing the latest appointees.
“This continues a string of exceptionally talented and knowledgeable individuals who will work with the mayor to steer our city moving forward,” REBNY said in a statement. “We look forward to working with [the appointees and] creating more affordable housing and an environment that will result in more good jobs.”
The only major positions with direct bearing on the real estate industry that are still open are the commissioner of the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission chair.
Developers are closely watching to see who gets picked for both spots. Sources say Ronda Wist of the Municipal Art Society of New York, the design watchdog group, is being considered for the LPC position. Current Chair Robert Tierney has been at the helm since 2002.
Capoccia said any delays making appointments will be overshadowed by actual changes the mayor makes in the city.
“De Blasio will be judged largely by the physical improvements he brings about in the city,” Capoccia said. “I think he sees and understands that.”