Council Members Upset Over Bloomberg Pick to Head Housing Authority

Six months after New York City Housing Authority chairman Tino Hernandez said he was leaving, Mayor Bloomberg on Wednesday afternoon announced his replacement, John Rhea, an executive at Barclays. The appointment immediately drew criticism from many in the City Council.

It came as Mr. Rhea has no experience in housing. A few hours after his appointment was announced in City Hall, multiple council members sent out statements denouncing the pick.

Councilwoman Letitia James said that Mr. Rhea was the wrong man for the job, both on account of his inexperience in the housing field and his background on Wall Street.

“The appointment of an African-American man,” she said in a statement, “who has no experience in managing a low-income public housing authority of this size and scale, and whose experience may be limited to private equity financing is troubling, and should not serve as a substitute or a panacea for the lack of diversity at City Hall” 

The Bloomberg administration was also criticized for not consulting with the Council.

Aside from the criticism, the pick was a classic move for the mayor, who has frequently tried to reach into the private sector to bring skilled managers into government.

“I have not only managed within large complex organizations … I’ve also managed multibillion-dollar capital budgets,” Mr. Rhea said at City Hall. “More needs to be done to make the kinds of progress Mayor Bloomberg wants to make.”

Mr. Bloomberg emphasized that NYCHA is in need of strong management given its financial problems and its perception of being unresponsiveness to residents.

“This is a management job and a finance job,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

NYCHA, the entity that manages the city’s 179,000-unit public housing stock, has faced a dwindling commitment of federal resources in recent years, though housing advocates are optimistic that will turn around under the Obama administration. Mr. Rhea highlighted the need to get more funding from Washington as a priority.

ebrown@observer.com