National search is on for NYCHA’s next CEO after Russ stepped down, Adams says

Adams, NYCHA
Mayor Eric Adams announces expansion of broadband to NYCHA developments in Brownsville Brooklyn. Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.
Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

The city will embark on a national search for the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) next CEO following Greg Russ stepping down from the role last week, Mayor Eric Adams said Monday.

“It’s going to be a national search,” Adams said. “We’re going to find the best person to provide leadership to some of the best people I know, and that’s my NYCHA residents. So, they need to have that quality of leadership and we’re going to do a national search to find that person to do so.”

The mayor made the remarks in response to a question from PoliticsNY, following a press conference on expanding broadband internet access to roughly 300,000 NYCHA residents across 200 public housing developments by the end of next year.

Adams’ office refused to provide any additional details on the NYCHA CEO hiring process – like a timeline or specific characteristics/job description – when reached by PoliticsNY after Monday’s event.

The search is on for the public housing authority’s next CEO after its last chief executive Greg Russ stepped down from the position last week, although he’ll be staying on as chair of NYCHA’s board as the two roles he held will be split amongst two people. NYCHA General Counsel Lisa Bova-Hiatt took over as interim CEO until the city finds a permanent head for the beleaguered housing authority. The management change took effect Monday.

The shakeup in leadership last week followed an arsenic contamination scare at the Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side that prevented residents there from drinking or cooking with their tap water for a little over a week. The tests that initially came back positive for the toxin were retracted a week later, when the lab conducting the tests – Environmental Monitoring and Technologies – said those results were inaccurate and issued revised tests negative for arsenic.

Adams has said his office wasn’t notified about the positive tests until several days after NYCHA became aware of the results and that someone at the agency would be held accountable for the debacle. However, Adams’ office wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Russ stepping down was a punishment for the arsenic scare, when reached by PoliticsNY last week.

According to a published report, the plan to split the roles of CEO and board chair wasn’t a response to the arsenic scare, although the timing may have been, but was rather part of a plan approved in June to transform the agency. Russ will still be making a plumb $258,000 a year salary, according to reporting from the news site The City, an amount on par with the mayor. The city will also continue to cover Russ’s travel expenses as he commutes back-and-forth from his home in Minnesota.

Russ is a holdover from former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. De Blasio faced immediate pushback on Russ’ hiring when he was first brought on in 2019, when it was revealed the city started him at an over $400,000 annual salary and was covering his travel costs to-and-from his Minneapolis home.

City Council Committee on Public Housing Chair Alexa Aviles told PoliticsNY in a statement that any selection process must put NYCHA residents at the center.

“Residents must be a part of the process, and they should make up a majority of the selection committee,” Aviles said.