• Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

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DeSantis reinstates Florida’s suspended affordable housing director

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis reinstated Florida’s affordable housing director on Friday, a month after he was suspended pending the outcome of an inspector general investigation.

Starting Monday, Mike DiNapoli will be back in charge of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars for affordable housing projects across the state each year.

DiNapoli, 54, was DeSantis’ pick to lead the corporation after its previous leader abruptly resigned in January, following the governor’s re-election.

DiNapoli was placed on paid administrative leave on July 21 pending the outcome of an inspector general investigation into allegations that he created a hostile work environment, according to current and former employees. While on leave, he was not allowed to access emails or enter the corporation’s headquarters in downtown Tallahassee.

The status of that investigation is unknown. Neither the corporation nor the governor’s office has confirmed his placement on leave or given any other statement on the subject to the Times/Herald. DeSantis’ office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

But in a statement to Politico, published about 20 minutes after corporation staff were notified late Friday, the governor’s office said DiNapoli should never have been placed on leave.

“The inquiry into FHFC to date has found nothing to justify the placement of Mr. DiNapoli on administrative leave,” a spokesperson for the governor’s office told Politico. “Moreover, it is clear that FHFC’s administrative actions were unsanctioned and without a full board action, and did not warrant proper due process.”

Just before 5 p.m. Friday, the corporation’s longtime chief financial officer, Angie Sellers, emailed all staff, writing the “governor’s office directed” that DiNapoli be reinstated and that he would likely be in the office on Monday, according to a copy of the email seen by the Times/Herald.

“Let’s continue to focus on providing opportunities for safe and affordable housing for the citizens of Florida,” Sellers wrote. “You are the backbone of our successful administration of our programs.”

The Florida Housing Finance Corp. was created by the Legislature in 1980 to serve as a bank that administers billions of dollars in affordable housing loans for developers, federal low-income tax credits, mortgage assistance and other programs. State lawmakers this spring assigned the corporation $711 million to build new units across the state in response to Florida’s affordability crisis.

DiNapoli was recommended to lead the corporation by DeSantis’ chief of staff, James Uthmeier, who is now directing the governor’s campaign for president. DiNapoli makes $185,000 per year.

Before coming to Florida, DiNapoli was a financial adviser in New York City for decades until 2015, when he lost his job with the Swiss financial services firm UBS. Weeks later, a woman who claimed DiNapoli was her brother and financial adviser filed a complaint alleging that DiNapoli “stole money from her account as well as forged her name to a check that was addressed to her and deposited those funds in another account.”

Between 2015 and 2017, DiNapoli experienced a series of legal actions relating to his personal finances, including having his bank accounts garnished to recoup outstanding debts, having his lender foreclose on his Ocala home and filing for bankruptcy.

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In 2017, he was hired at the Department of Economic Opportunity, now known as the Department of Commerce, as a deputy chief. He was promoted to lead the department’s Office of Small and Minority Business Capital, administering the state’s emergency bridge loan program, which issues interest-free loans to businesses and local governments after disasters, and the Homeowner Assistance Fund, which gave money to homeowners to pay their mortgages during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since he took the job in February, the office has seen a wave of resignations. DiNapoli also fired the corporation’s longtime general counsel, who doubled as its chief ethics officer, and the corporation’s liaison to the board, Sheila Freaney.

Freaney has filed discrimination complaints alleging she was fired after reporting “wrongdoing,” including “irregular spending practices,” by DiNapoli, her lawyer told the Times/Herald earlier this month.

The results of the inspector general investigation are expected to be released at the corporation’s next board meeting on Sept. 8.

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