Rhode Island’s so-called housing czar, Josh Saal, is stepping down after one year on the job, amid complaints about his attempts to address the state’s housing crisis.

Gov. Dan McKee hired Saal in 2021 from a job with New York City’s housing agency. That was after the General Assembly created a new post meant to focus on and lead efforts to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis.

Saal started on the job in January 2022, and the legislature last year approved $250 million to address housing needs through an array of programs.

But top lawmakers say too little progress has been made since then. Saal has also been criticized for efforts to assist people who lack housing, and his compilation of reports on the housing issue.

In a statement, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi said,  “I am disappointed by the lack of progress that was made under Secretary Saal’s leadership and the inadequate reports he recently submitted to the legislature. The General Assembly committed unprecedented resources to address affordable housing and homelessness in the last two budgets, and there has been very little funding spent so far.

“We need immediate production," Shekarchi continued, "and I look forward to working with Governor McKee and a new secretary. The time to act is now! The position of housing secretary was created through legislation that I sponsored, and it is vital to have one point of contact responsible for heading our state’s efforts to address the critical housing shortage. I hope the new secretary will be a person of action with a record of getting things done in Rhode Island.”

Saal was given the choice to resign or be fired, a source tells The Public’s Radio.

In his letter of resignation, Saal said that Rhode Island's current approach to housing is hindered by a decentralized structure.

"Housing and homeless programs are currently being administered and led by several different state agencies as well as multiple non-governmental and quasi-government bodies," Saal wrote. "This approach has led to limitations on oversight, and to the unintentional creation of inefficient 'silos'-- an ineffective practice that the creation of this new centralized agency aims to address. The Department of Housing has laid out a plan to create a transparent and accountable structure to solve this problem in the Housing Organizational Plan."

In a statement, McKee spokesman Matt Sheaff said the governor had accepted Saal’s resignation.

“Housing is one of the most critical issues facing Rhode Island today and over the next decade,” Sheaff said. “That’s why our Administration proposed a historic quarter billion dollar investment in creating and supporting more housing at all income levels. This issue is crucial to the families struggling today and to the long-term economic success of our state.”

Sheaff said Saal will stay for a brief transition and speak before he leaves on the kind of leadership needed to improve housing issues in the state.

Sheaff added, “We thank Secretary Saal for his work over the past year and look forward to building a Department of Housing that is innovative and responsive to the gravity this moment requires.”

House GOP Leader Michael Chippendale said, "While Secretary Saal’s resignation is not a surprise and is appropriate given the revelations of the past few weeks, it has definitely driven home the need to have an experienced professional in the Housing Secretary role – someone who understands the unique needs and landscape of Rhode Island. Rhode Island’s critical affordable housing shortage is worthy of a leader who can make an immediate impact forging alliance with the various support organizations across the state and building consensus for a thoughtful plan of action."

Former Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who made an unsuccessful run for general treasurer next year and is considered likely to rejoin the McKee administration, is seen as a potential successor for Saal.

Rhode Island’s housing crisis has worsened for years due to limited production, rising prices (the median cost of a home is more than $400,000) and how home ownership is beyond the reach of people who earn the median income in Rhode Island.

This story has been updated.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@thepublicsradio.org.