PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee has appointed former commerce secretary Stefan I. Pryor to be the new Housing Secretary, just a week after Joshua D. Saal resigned.
Pryor will also serve as chairman of the Board of Rhode Island Housing.
Saal, who worked under Pryor for several months as the deputy secretary of commerce for housing starting in January 2022, is expected to remain in his role through Jan. 25.
Hannah Moore, the former assistant commerce secretary, will be named as the executive director of the Housing Resources Commission (HRC). The HRC is a public body formed in 1998 and was designed to be a “board of advisors” to the state’s housing and community development department. Since its inception, no one person has served as executive director of the HRC as their only job. The current executive director, Mike Tondra, is also the director of planning and community development within the housing department.
The governor’s office said Pryor and Moore will also coordinate “a set of major projects for the McKee Administration.”
McKee spokesman Matt Sheaff told the Globe that the governor will seek Senate confirmation for Pryor to be appointed as housing secretary and chair of Rhode Island Housing.
Pryor and Moore will begin Feb. 6.
In an exclusive interview with the Globe on Wednesday afternoon, Pryor said he plans to conduct a review of the reports that were submitted prior to his first day on the job. Key sections of those reports did not include input from stakeholders such as other agencies, boards, and departments charged with housing issues. Pryor said his hope is to “help everyone involved look forward rather than backwards.”
“It’s important that all stakeholders have an opportunity to participate in the dialogue as we begin in this new role,” said Pryor. “Were going to do outreach to housing professionals and advocates to benefit from their observations and experiences.”
“Housing is essential to the health of our community as well as our economy,” said Pryor in a statement Wednesday morning. “During this critical period, we will work to position Rhode Island for continued — and increased — progress. It’s important for us to come together around our common mission, bring together an effective housing organization, and take key steps that will enable us to advance collectively.”
Pryor was appointed as commerce secretary by former governor Gina M. Raimondo in 2015. He resigned from his post in mid-June 2022 to focus on his campaign for state treasurer; he was defeated in the primary by then former Central Falls mayor James Diossa, now state treasurer.
A statute introduced by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, made the housing secretary a cabinet-level position and Saal was elevated by McKee in July 2022. Saal’s performance during his year-long tenure was criticized by lawmakers, and Globe investigations found that his most recent reports may not have complied with the state law that created his role.
Pryor earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University, and has served in a variety of roles focused on around economic development and education in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. He has served as key negotiator to get tough projects across the finish line, but several decisions have been met with public outcry.
During his years as Rhode Island’s commerce secretary, Raimondo had hoped he could help attract a major commercial tenant to occupy the long-vacant Superman building in downtown Providence. Those plans never came to fruition, but he helped negotiate with the building’s owner to redevelop it into 285 apartments. Some housing providers have welcomed the move, saying units are needed across all income levels. But critics have said giving millions of dollars in public subsidies to a wealthy developer was unnecessary.
Before being appointed as the commerce secretary for Rhode Island, Pryor served as Connecticut’s commissioner of education under then-governor. Dannel P. Malloy. Before that, he served as deputy mayor and director of economic and housing development in Newark, N.J., from 2006 to 2011 under then-mayor Cory Booker. Pryor and his team were credited in planning Newark’s first downtown hotel opening in nearly four decades and the first new office tower in 20 years. He recruited major businesses like the North American offices of Panasonic and Manischewitz to Newark.
From 2002 to 2006, Pryor worked for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), and was named the organization’s president when he was just 34 years old. Then-mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Pryor forged “cooperation between the business and public sectors.” But former New York governor Eliot Spitzer called the corporation “an absolute failure.” In response, Pryor told The New York Times that the corporation fulfilled its mandates, even if redevelopment took longer than anticipated.
Well before his days in New York City, Pryor served as a 1st ward alderman and then as a policy advisor in the mayor’s office in New Haven, Conn. With a group of Yale Law School classmates, he co-founded and was the first board president of Amistad Academy, a charter school that became a flagship of the Achievement First network. Years later, as commissioner of public education, he was often a controversial figure going up against teachers unions, who pointed out that he had never worked in a classroom, and some politicians called for Pryor’s dismissal. Union leaders later said they never questioned his personal commitment to education, but at times disagreed with how he tried to reach his goals.
This story has been updated with statements from Stefan Pryor and Governor McKee’s spokesperson.