New HPD Commissioner has big shoes to fill.
And those shoes are even larger for a new Commissioner that may know where to buy pens, but is still unsure about J-51s.
Up until April 8th, when she assumed her current job, Barrios-Paoli was the City's Commissioner of Personnel. She also was Commissioner of the Department of Employment under Mayor Ed Koch; was vice president for education and youth employment with the New York City Partnership; and more recently, was the executive director of Literacy Volunteers of New York City.
The Mexican-born Commissioner came to New York to do graduate work in cultural/urban anthropology, and after receiving her Ph.d. from The New School, never left, becoming a citizen in 1978.
Despite a lack of direct housing program knowledge, Barrios-Paoli has managed to personally direct the construction of three homes, lived in a rent-stabilized apartment and currently occupies a New York City co-op that she says is well-managed.
"I'm sort of an educated outsider," she is the first to admit. "I've owned several houses, three of them I had built from scratch, so I do understand a lot of the jargon."
But one thing that surprised her during her first few days in her new position was that she was meeting with people she was familiar with, only this time the topic had changed.
"A lot of those same people that I had to interact with through the years were very much the same," she said. "So I was having a discussion on a different arena, but the people were the same."
In the past, she may have been talking about a neighborhood employment program designed to help communities with high in rem problems. Only now, the discussion was on the housing itself. "So I have felt very comfortable," she says.
In New York City, she explains, there are a lot of social issues attached to housing: issues of community development, economic development and community concerns all similar to what she had to deal with at Health and Human Resources.
"Things like Section 8 I was familiar with from welfare reform, and we dealt with the homeless at HRA," she added.
And being familiar with the structure of city government has also helped out. She noted that complete outsiders may understand the workings of programs, but have a hard time getting up to speed on the logistics of city government - who to go to for what.
"Once you've been a commissioner in several city agencies, the processes are similar," she said. "I'm a quick learner. I've had to be."
There are also more people willing to teach her about housing issues than procurement, she laughed happily, after completing her first week at HPD.
While she never worked in the Dinkins administration, when Giuliani was elected, she was asked by an old friend to help with personnel transition issues, and then was asked to remain as Commissioner.
Most recently, she was working on the transition of the merger with the Division of General Services, and was slated to oversee all city-owned commercial properties when the Mayor asked her to take on HPD. "He felt I was a good manager and he said he trusted me and said he felt I could continue with the direction that Debbie had begun."
Barrios-Paoli also waxes poetic about Wright. "I've inherited the agency and she did a wonderful job," she said. "You only know how good a commissioner is when you come after them. It's clear that Debbie had set a clear direction."
HPD, she says, has a serious mandate to get rid of as many properties as possible, "and get them to people who live there."
"We have a lot of in rem, and we should not be in the business of owning real estate," she said. But in getting those properties back to private hands in the neighborhood, she realizes the agency has to go through a complicated bidding and de-acquisition process, "to make sure it's done fairly. That's the most important thing."
HPD is currently working on culling certain properties from the tax lien list. "Government does a lot very well, but a lot of people do things very well, and if we sell them the portfolio and they can collect the taxes better than us, that's great."
In the short term, Barrios-Paoli said she will have to go on a quick learning curve about the issues "knowing there is very short patience level of about two Weeks."
One of the most immediate concerns is that the Federal Government has rescinded its 1995 Section 8 vouchers and has not issued new ones for 1996. "I'm sure the Federal Government will work with us," she said.
Another issue that will come to her attention right away is the debate over a new lead paint liability law.
"It's going to take a little while before I have my own agenda," she said. "Debbie chose an agenda that is very strong."
When apprised of a possible J-51 administrative back-log, Barrios-Paoli noted, "[Deputy Mayor] Peter Powers has a clear agenda. If there is a backlog anywhere, I will hear about it. A lot of people don't know I'm here yet," she added, one reason she has not yet been inundated with issues and complaints.
Hopefully, the Commissioner will be able to handle city housing issues and still have time to relax with on of her favorite pastimes, fishing at an out-of state weekend house.
"I like the countryside there and it's on a lake," she said. "I like to fish."
What she has to pray for, however, is that city housing issues won't eat her alive.
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|Title Annotation:||Housing Preservation and Development's Lilliam Barrios-Paoli|
|Publication:||Real Estate Weekly|
|Date:||Apr 24, 1996|
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