The former head of New Haven’s anti-blight agency is returning to town from California to fill a new $125,000-a-year post at the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH).
Erik Johnson begins his new job, as senior director of strategy, policy and innovation, on July 5.
Johnson, who grew up in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, ran LCI until November 2014. Despite a public wooing effort by Mayor Toni Harp to keep him in town with a raise, Johnson opted to move west. He took a job as vice-president of development for the National Community Renaissance Corporation of California, a private company that works on mixed-use public-housing developments with the housing authority in San Bernandino, California. In that capacity he worked on a team that put together a deal to build 150 units of “rental assistance demonstration” housing.
Now he’s returning to New Haven to oversee the housing authority’s policy experiments under the federal “Moving to Work” (MTW) program.
“I missed home,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I’m more of an East Coast guy than a West Coast guy. As I’ve had the opportunity to work in a couple of cities in California and out West, I realize how uniquely positioned New Haven is to be an even greater community than it is. I feel fortunate I can be part of that community again.
“While the weather is great, it’s definitely a different pace. It’s more disconnected. Generally speaking, I feel like the East Coast has better culture and better educational opportunities for my family.”
HANH is one of 39 authorities nationwide to have gained an MTW designation, which allows it to “be more innovative,” in the words of HANH Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton.
Since obtaining the designation in 2000, HANH has made use of the opportunity to waive some federal rules to create a youth achievement program called Elm City Believes and self-sufficiency adult job-readiness and transportation programs, modernize developments, and include public-housing vouchers in market-rate projects like 360 State Street and the “LiveWorkLearnPlay” complex allegedly coming to the old Coliseum site. It also modified rental rules to allow seniors and disabled clients to come in every three years, rather than every years, to verify their eligibility.
Congress recently extended the MTW program another ten years, to 2028.
That decision prompted HANH to create the new position that Johnson will fill.
“It makes sense, with this extension, to think about where we want to go next,” DuBois-Walton said. In addition to overseeing MTW initiatives, Johnson will be in charge of data analysis and quality control.
“He has a good background in housing and in this area particularly. He has done some innovative things outside of government,” she said of Johnson.
It is not unusual for former City Hall administrators to move to positions at HANH, which is a separate agency from city government. Sheila Allen Bell, for instance, moved in 2007 from a position in the former DeStefano administration’s social-services wing to a deputy director post at HANH, from which she recently retired. DuBois-Walton herself served as mayoral chief of staff before moving to work in 2008 as HANH executive director.