Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Housing Josh Saal speaks at a news conference at the child care center at King Street Commons in Providence on Feb. 2, 2022. Photo by Stephen Ide/ONE Neighborhood Builders
By Patrick Anderson
The Providence Journal | Feb. 7, 2022
PROVIDENCE — Josh Saal isn’t comfortable being called a “czar.”
But like it or not, that’s how Rhode Island’s new Deputy Commerce Secretary is introduced — “Housing Czar” — at a news conference in Olneyville for the start of a $13-million program to buy land for building new homes.
And it’s how his job is described at the State House, as proof that Democratic leaders are serious this time about taking on the housing crisis, ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on affordability programs and, perhaps, loosen restrictions on development.
Rather than a czar ruling with imperial authority, Saal describes his new role more like chief moderator in often fractious debates about housing policy.
“I accept and welcome the responsibility and accountability that comes with the position, but the changes that we need to make in the Rhode Island housing market is something that needs to come from the communities across the state, from the developers working with the state,” Saal said in his first State House interview last week. “And my job is really to help facilitate that and empower communities to create housing opportunities, as opposed to ruling with an edict.”
Saal says seven years working in New York City government taught him a lot about “triangulation.”
“I was in the middle of working between the legal and policy framework, working with communities on outreach and negotiating with elected political officials to get projects underway,” he said.
In other words: Saal isn’t looking to rattle cages.