The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA)’s more than one year-long search for a new president and CEO is finally rounding out as four candidates have been shortlisted for consideration by the Housing Authority’s board of commissioners, board chair Dr. Morris Stribling said last week.
The organization received 17 applications from across the country to fill the vacancy, and eventually interviewed four final candidates – two of which are from San Antonio – over the past two weeks.
The finalists, Stribling said, “have strong housing authority backgrounds” – about 20 years of experience on average – and most of them have either been CEOs or COOs in the housing industry. These are necessary traits for leading an organization with a $200 million-plus annual budget that “serves approximately 65,000 children, adults and seniors through its Public Housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and Mixed-Income housing programs,” according to a Housing Authority news release.
The Housing Authority began its search after its former president and CEO of six years, Lourdes Castro Ramírez, was appointed Principal Deputy Secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro in February 2015.
David Nisivoccia, who was originally hired as the Housing Authority’s chief operating officer and has more than 20 years of experience in the affordable housing sector, has been serving in the post in the interim.
The deaths of two commissioners and the resignation of another prolonged replacing Castro Ramírez, Stribling said. Furthermore, Mayor Ivy Taylor, who appoints the Housing Authority commissioners, could not make any additional appointments after Castro Ramírez left. Taylor had faced a conflict of interest involving her and her husband Rodney’s Section 8 rental properties, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News. She, therefore, had to wait for approval from the City of San Antonio and HUD to make sure that she was not in conflict. The issue was resolved and Taylor can once again appoint commissioners.
In August 2014, the Housing Authority also had to wait on confirmation of Castro Ramírez’s nomination by President Barack Obama to be Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, which was delayed for seven months by the U.S. Senate.
As a workaround, Castro eventually appointed her to her current role as principal deputy secretary last year, which allowed her to join HUD without Senate confirmation.
Once she was appointed, the search for a new Housing Authority president began, and in July of this year, the Housing Authority hired California-based consulting and executive search firm Ralph Andersen & Associates to aid in the process. With the interviews completed, Stribling said, the Housing Authority board will meet again to deliberate and come to a decision.
“We’re looking for experience in the housing industry … and for somebody who can relate to all of the partners that are related to running a housing authority, particularly from a political standpoint,” Stribling said, meaning candidates should have and maintain a good relationship with local politicians and the city’s congressional delegation.
“They have to be able to kind of unite fluidly within that environment,” he explained.
Since construction work is another key part of the Housing Authority’s efforts, Stribling added that the ideal candidate should also have construction and development experience, as well as expertise in community development.
The Housing Authority’s new president and CEO will come at a key moment for the agency. As 2016 wraps up and the U.S. heads into a Republican presidency, affordable housing and community development groups are unlikely to receive more federal funding for their special initiatives and projects, Stribling said.
“The (president and) CEO has to be a bit of visionary … to help us along with different issues that may affect how the Housing Authority gets funding from the (federal government),” he said.
The Housing Authority was awarded a $250,000 Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Planning Grant in 2012, a federal grant aimed at improving and revitalizing neighborhoods, which it is using to help fund East Meadows, a mixed-income housing complex that replaced the old Wheatley Courts on the Eastside. The development’s Phase 1 officially opened in October.
The Housing Authority also has three other grants to work with – the Promise Neighborhoods planning grant, the Promise Zone grant, and the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant. San Antonio’s Eastside is the only U.S. community to receive all four White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative grants. The new president and CEO will play a key role in implementing those funds and keeping the organization’s momentum up, Stribling said.
“We’re going to have to be a little bit more thought-provoking in terms of how we maintain what we have and also (how we pursue) new initiatives,” he said.
The board anticipates announcing its final selection by the end of the year, Stribling added, and the new hire would begin around the start of the new year.