PROVIDENCE — Housing Secretary Joshua Saal failed to submit a critical report that would have provided key data on the state’s housing crisis and was required of him by law, the Globe has found.
Saal, who has held the state’s top housing job for the past year, was required to submit an “integrated housing report” to the General Assembly by Dec. 31. The report, according to Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s office, was expected to list specific information about how many units are available based on income and unit type in each city and town.
On Tuesday afternoon — nearly three days after the deadline — a spokesman for Saal confirmed the report would not be submitted by the end of the day.
“The data report is going through a final review process,” Saal said in a statement through his spokesman Chris Raia. Saal said he expects to submit the report to lawmakers “this week.”
Larry Berman, a spokesman in Shekarchi’s office, said the integrated housing report is a required responsibility of Saal under the law that created his position.
“An inquiry will be made to the secretary today and we await his response to determine the next steps,” Berman said Tuesday in an email to the Globe.
It’s unclear if the report is complete. Raia, a contract worker for the state, said he had not seen the report as of late Tuesday afternoon.
Saal was first appointed in January 2021 as the deputy secretary of commerce for housing and then he was elevated to a cabinet-level position with the creation of his own department on July 1. Yet, his performance has already been criticized by Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.
When asked last month what letter grade he’d give Saal, Ruggerio said, “I’d give him a certificate of attendance.” Shekarchi said he’d give him an “I for incomplete.”
On Tuesday, Shekarchi was re-elected as Speaker of the House. In his remarks, he concentrated on the importance of taking on the housing crisis in 2023.
”We have made progress in tackling Rhode Island’s housing crisis. However, we need to do much more,” Shekarchi said. “Our state’s lack of affordable housing has been exposed in recent months. There can be no doubt we have a housing crisis and a homelessness crisis.”
He added, “As long as there are people without safe and permanent housing, our work isn’t done.”
For weeks, Saal’s office said it expected to hand in the report on time. He did not request a deadline extension.
It’s unclear what — if any — consequences Saal could face.
Aside from dozens of key data points regarding the housing landscape in Rhode Island, the integrated housing report was also supposed to provide recommendations to “resolve any issues that provide an impediment to the development of housing.”
Similar reports have been submitted in years past. In December 2021, then-commerce secretary Stefan Pryor submitted a preliminary housing report, which included input from Saal. The report — dated Dec. 31, 2021 — asked for much of the same data as the integrated housing report Saal was expected to hand in to the Speaker’s office last week. Most of the data Pryor cited was collected by other agencies such as the quasi-public Rhode Island Housing or the US Census Bureau. Other information came from HousingWorks RI, which is a clearinghouse of information about housing in Rhode Island at Roger Williams University.
None of the data in the 2021 report was independently collected by Rhode Island Commerce, which had overseen housing at the time. It’s unclear if the new housing and community development office had to collect any of its own data to submit the integrated housing report.
Saal is also expected to work on a “statewide housing plan” in 2023. But it’s unclear how much the public will be allowed to weigh in and who will be involved. On Dec. 30, Saal issued a request for proposals for a consultant to help put together the plan. The deadline for proposals is in early February.
The housing secretary is also expected to submit two additional reports by March 15. The reports include information related to housing appeals and the utilization of eligible subsidies. It’s unclear if Saal will request a deadline extension.