Deadbeat Landlord Housing Head Quits; Former HPD Head May Get Post

George Pataki’s housing commissioner and former election campaign chief, Joseph Holland, resigned on October 10 under a mountain of unpaid bills and taxes.

George Pataki’s housing commissioner and former election campaign chief, Joseph Holland, resigned on October 10 under a mountain of unpaid bills and taxes.

Holland, the former Harlem landlord who lost buildings at 22-24 West 128th St. in Housing Court for failing to give his tenants repairs and services, announced he was leaving the Division of Housing and Community Renewal three days after the Daily News reported that he had failed to pay creditors, including back taxes he owed to the city. A current Holland creditor accused him of not maintaining another building he owns, at 2 East 125th St.

Holland said he resigned to deal with his personal financial mess. He issued a statement declaring that he was “confident that all outstanding financial obligations will be properly addressed and satisfied.” The commissioner’s creditors were threatening to garnish his $90,832 annual salary to satisfy some of his debts. As his resignation ends his state salary, Holland may presumably encounter some additional difficulties in meeting those obligations. While he was commissioner, his assets were placed in a blind trust.

The extent of Holland’s indebtedness came to light in a court action by his creditors to uncover his assets and force him to pay his debts. The suit resulted in judgments amounting to $508,000 in connection with a real-estate deal in which he borrowed money to buy La Famille, a Harlem restaurant that went under last year. The judgment includes $258,000 in interest.

Holland, according to the News, also was late paying on a $100,000 loan he obtained to open a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream franchise at 2 East 125th St. A company that Holland owns is in default on a $750,000 loan to buy that building, and there is also more than $300,000 in tax arrears on it. A state supreme court justice, Lewis Friedman, agreed to name a receiver to collect rent at the 125th Street property to be turned over to creditors.

DHCR spokesperson Harry Ryttenberg said that Holland’s building would be sold soon to cover the debts. It was an embarrassment to Governor Pataki to have his housing commissioner not pay real-estate taxes.

As DHCR commissioner, Holland was responsible for regulating 1.2 million residential apartments in New York State, most of which are in the New York City rent stabilization system. The agency also develops and supervises various affordable housing programs across the state.

Holland graduated from Harvard Law School and spent some time as the Republican majority counsel to the State Senate Housing Committee. He was appointed DHCR commissioner in January 1995, the first month of the Pataki Administration. He assumed the post under fire for his 1989 mismanagement of two 128th Street buildings that were in such slum-like condition that Housing Court, with the aid of Legal Aid attorneys and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, removed his control of the buildings and appointed a 7A administrator.

Holland was also under the gun of a contempt of court order for not obeying directives to do repairs. At the time, he issued a public statement blaming the Koch administration for refusing to give him rehabilitation funds to fix up the building. A Legal Aid attorney at the time characterized Holland’s ownership as typical of a speculative landlord who withholds repairs and services to force existing tenants out.

Political observers believe that the DHCR post was not even Holland’s second choice, and that he expected a much higher appointment. He withdrew from the 1994 race for state Attorney General in favor of now-AG Dennis Vacco, and was appointed co-chair of Pataki’s 1994 gubernatorial race against Mario Cuomo.

During his less than two-year tenure, Holland was mostly invisible to those who watch the operation of DHCR. He would be trotted out for show when Pataki appeared at landlord and business groups promoting his administration’s anti-regulatory, pro-business stance.

A anonymous source in DHCR stated that the agency’s rumor mill has it that Executive Deputy Commissioner Joseph Lynch, who will retire at the end of the year, would be named to replace Holland until then. Pataki would then tap former HPD Commissioner Deborah Wright to head the agency. Wright was Giuliani’s hapless overseer of the dismal downsizing of HPD; she left last April_apparently before things could get any worse. She now works for Pataki at the Harlem enterprise zone project.