PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One week after the ousting of the state’s first-ever housing secretary, Gov. Dan McKee has tapped a familiar face to take over the job: Stefan Pryor.
Pryor, who served as state commerce secretary under McKee and his predecessor Gina Raimondo, resigned last year to run for state treasurer. He lost the Democratic primary for treasurer to James Diossa, who went on to win in November.
Josh Saal, the first housing secretary, resigned last week amid criticism over his handling of housing and homelessness issues. The critics included House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, who called Saal’s report to the legislature on housing — delivered late — “inadequate.”
In addition to housing secretary, McKee’s office said he is nominating Pryor to serve as chairman of the Rhode Island Housing board.
McKee also tapped Hannah Moore for the dual roles of assistant secretary of housing and executive director of the Housing Resources Commission. Moore previously served as assistant secretary of commerce under Pryor.
Housing is one of McKee’s top priorities in his first full term in office, as discussed during his State of the State address on Tuesday. But housing advocates have been critical of his recent handling of a homeless encampment outside the State House, and have called on the state to allocate more resources to develop new affordable housing.
“Housing is one of the most critical issues facing Rhode Island today and over the next decade,” McKee said in a news release announcing Pryor’s appointment. “We need to keep our children here in Rhode Island, not price them out of our state. And we need to make homes affordable to families of every income level, including families who are especially cost burdened.”
Before his resignation, Pryor led negotiations on a deal with the owner of the vacant Superman building in downtown Providence, pledging significant taxpayer money for the building to to be developed into apartments.
The deal was widely celebrated as a win for downtown Providence, but it’s also been criticized for the developer’s planned rent prices on “affordable” units in the building.
Pryor said in a statement that housing is “essential to the health of our community as well as our economy.”
“We will start by listening to everyday Rhode Islanders, state and local leaders, and housing professionals and advocates regarding our current challenges as well as the ways we can propel our state forward,” Pryor said.
Shekarchi, who sponsored the law that created the cabinet-level housing secretary job, praised Pryor’s appointment in a statement Wednesday.
“As Rhode Island faces a severe housing and homelessness crisis, Stefan Pryor has a demonstrated history of getting innovative development deals accomplished, such as the proposed transformation of the Superman Building,” Shekarchi said. “I am confident his strong skill set and deep knowledge of our state will enable him to hit the ground running. Stefan knows how critical housing is to our economy and virtually all aspects of Rhode Island life.”
McKee’s office said Pryor will also coordinate “major projects” in his administration, especially those that involve housing.