Saal resigns as R.I.’s secretary of housing

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – After facing months of public scrutiny and criticism from top lawmakers over his leadership of the state’s Department of Housing, Josh Saal, who headed the department as a cabinet-level official, has submitted his resignation letter on Wednesday to Gov. Daniel J. McKee, according to McKee spokesperson Matthew Sheaff.

In his resignation letter submitted Wednesday, Saal wrote that he would be willing to stay on for 90 days and included some critiques of how the state has approached the housing problem historically.

“One person was never going to be able to solve a housing crisis that has been developing for decades,” he wrote.

Prior to becoming secretary of housing last July, tasked with developing both an organizational plan for the newly launched department and compiling annual reports on the state of housing in Rhode Island, Saal was the deputy secretary of commerce under Stefan Pryor.

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A graduate of Brown University, Saal previously worked in New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Sheaff said the administration looks “forward to building a Department of Housing that is innovative and responsive to the gravity this moment requires.

“Housing is one of the most critical issues facing Rhode Island today and over the next decade,” he said. “This issue is crucial to the families struggling today and to the long-term economic success of our state.”

Bipartisan reaction to the news of Saal’s departure poured in from legislative leaders.

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, who sponsored the original legislation that created the cabinet position, released a statement Wednesday reiterating his “disappointment in the lack of progress” under Saal’s leadership, citing housing reports recently submitted to the General Assembly that he said were “inadequate.”

“It is vital to have one point of contact responsible for heading our state’s efforts to address the critical housing shortage,” Shekarchi said. “I hope the new secretary will be a person of action with a record of getting things done in Rhode Island.”

On the Republican side, House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale said the resignation was “appropriate” and “not a surprise.”

“It has definitely driven home the need to have an experienced professional in the housing secretary role,” he said. “Someone who understands the unique needs and landscape of Rhode Island.”

(Update: Comments from Michael Chippendale added in 11th and 12th paragraphs.)

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at Allen@PBN.com.