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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Princeton resident Luis Gonzalez was named Chairman of the powerful New Brunswick Housing Authority Board of Commissioners on July 22.
The agency operates and manages a handful of public housing complexes in the city, but also plays a key role in real estate and construction, doubling as the city’s “redevelopment agency.”
Gonzalez, a senior financial aid officer for Rutgers University, does not meet a residency requirement to serve on the agency’s board.
“Currently, I’m living in Princeton,” Gonzalez told New Brunswick Today on July 30.
Meanwhile, a directory of board members on the city website lists Gonzalez as having a Second Ward address on Lawrence Street in New Brunswick.
Gonzalez emphasized that he lived in New Brunswick for a long time before moving to Mercer County.
“I still have a house on Lawrence Street,” Gonzalez told New Brunswick Today, adding that his parents currently live in the home he has owned since 1994.
Only four of the board’s seven volunteer members were present for the NBHA’s annual re-organization meeting, leaving three of them with leadership roles, including Gonzalez.
Yirgu Wolde was named the Board’s Vice Chair, and Kevin Jones, an aide to Mayor James Cahill, was named 2nd Vice Chair.
Gonzalez took over the Chairman role from Dale Caldwell, who also serves as an elected Board of Education member in New Brunswick.
“We’re looking forward to working with him… and I think he brings a good community background to the board,” said John Clarke, prior to the revelation that Gonzalez actually lives 17 miles south of the Hub City.
“I don’t have a Princeton residence for him,” Clarke said when pressed about Gonzalez’s comments that he lives in Princeton.
Clarke said the authority doesn’t get involved in the personal lives of its board members and he was not sure if board members were required to be city residents.
“I don’t know what the residency requirements are… That’s not my area of expertise,” said Clarke, referring questions to the City Council, who appointed Gonzalez to the board in 2011.
Rebecca Escobar, a former NBHA board member who now serves as the liason between the Council and the NBHA, said she did not know where Gonzalez lives.
“I have no knowledge of his personal life,” Escobar told New Brunswick Today, referring questions about his residency to City Clerk Dan Torrisi
One member of the NBHA board is appointed by the Mayor, one by New Jersey’s Governor, and the remaining five are appointed by the Council.
A spokesperson for the city government and Mayor James Cahill did not immediately offer a comment on Gonzalez’s residency.
“I don’t have the ordinance in front of me right now,” said spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw, when asked if board members are required to live in the city.
While federal law does not set forth a residency requirement for housing authority board members, the City of New Brunswick has a law on the books that requires them to be either city residents or full-time city employees.
City ordinance 2.36.020 is entitled “Residency requirements,” and apparently covers the members of the NBHA board.
It says board members must be “residents of the city unless full-time employees of the city at the time of their appointment and thereafter continue to reside in the city or be employed full-time by the city for the full term of their appointment.”
“The continual residency within the city or full-time employment with the city is a continuing qualification for appointment and service.”
Asked if he currently had any other jobs besides the one at Rutgers, Gonzalez laughed, adding that was all that he could handle.
A Rutgers spokesperson did not respond to a request for Gonzalez’s salary and hire date.
Gonzalez said he previously worked as a youth counselor for the city’s Adult High School, which is run by the New Brunswick Board of Education.
Gonzalez said his priorities as NBHA board chair include improving the quality of life and the high school graduation rate, as well as expanding “access to healthcare, access to education, and access to training so they can get better jobs.”
According to the city website, Gonzalez’s term expires in April 2017.
He did not respond to a follow-up email inquiry asking when he relocated to Princeton.
Sonia Burgos of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said that the federal government doesn’t make residency a requirement of serving on housing authority boards, and said that policy may vary from state to state.
“It would be an inappropriate question to ask us… it’s not something that we monitor or regulate, so that would be a state requirement,” said Burgos.
Despite a promise to the contrary, the media office at the NJ Department of Community Affairs did not respond to an inquiry from New Brunswick Today regarding whether there is a state requirement that board members be residents of the city they are serving.
According to public documents from the City of Cape May, the proposed appointment of an out-of-towner to that city’s Housing Authority has been delayed for more than a year, prompting officials to write to the Governor’s Office.
Dr. Keith Lafferty was listed as a “commissioner-designee” in meeting minutes from 2014, but his name still does not appear on the authority’s website as a member of the board.
As of the April 2015 Cape May Housing Authority board meeting, commissioners were still waiting to hear back from Governor Chris Christie’s office.
“The [Executive Director] reported that the Authority is still awaiting a response from the Governor’s office concerning the appointment of Dr. Lafferty to the Board of Commissioners,” reads the minutes from the April 2015 meeting.
“Commissioner Thomas G. Hynes has written additional correspondence to the Governor’s Office in an effort to get this matter resolved.”
UPDATE (6:15PM): Jennifer Bradshaw, a spokesperson for City Hall confirmed that there is a city ordinance requiring board members to either live in the city, or work for the city government.
However, she said that Gonzalez meets the residency requirement because he “has two residences.”
‘He has two residences and the primary one is in New Brunswick,” Bradshaw told NBToday.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.