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Puerto Rico governor appoints new Housing Finance Authority chief

By on August 20, 2019

Gov. Wanda Vázquez and attorney Luis Carlos Fernández (Courtesy)

Luis Carlos Fernández ratified by entity’s board as executive director

SAN JUAN — Gov. Wanda Vázquez nomination of attorney Luis Carlos Fernández to be appointed as executive director of the Puerto Rico Housing Financing Administration has been ratified by the agency’s board.

On Aug. 15, the governor sent the Economic Development Bank’s (EDB) board her nomination of Fernández to preside the government-owned entity that provides loans and funds to private organizations whose activities can help replace imports.

Both entities, the press release by the governor’s office says, have related functions and work hand in hand to provide commercial services to small and midsize businesses.

“I appreciate the willingness of attorney Luis Carlos Fernández Trinchet to occupy these important positions directly linked to the economic development of Puerto Rico, one of the priority issues for this administration. Fernández Trinchet has been a public servant for more than a decade and has the qualities to establish the economic agenda that successfully defines the development of Puerto Rico,” Vázquez said in the release.

Fernández thanked the governor and both boards for placing their trust in him.

“I am very grateful for the trust placed in me, not only Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s, but also the members of the board of directors,” Fernández says in the release. “I accept the nomination with much humility, understanding the great responsibility that this new position entails.”

Fernández added that the “Economic Development Bank faces several challenges, including the management of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG-DR) funds, the economic development for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as supporting government efforts to advance the Opportunity Zones program. Our institution seeks to foster investment in low-income areas on the island. I trust that the Bank’s work team will help me achieve the goals set in order to achieve a better Puerto Rico.”

As for the AFV, the nominee said an aggressive plan will be implemented to distribute the $400 million in CDBG-DR funds for low-income rental projects. Other financing facilities, subsidies and incentives will be promoted so people can acquire or lease a decent home, he added.

Fernández earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Puerto Rico, a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on finance, business environment and public policy from the University of Rochester in New York; and a Juris Doctor at the University of Puerto Rico. He is a CFA Institute-certified financial analyst.

He worked from 1988 to 2002 at local financial institutions and had practiced law. He has been in public service since 2008, serving as the Housing Finance Authority’s (AFV by its Spanish initials) financial and tax credit director. And since 2018 he has been a special assistant in economic matters at the Housing Department, and recently served as an adviser to AFV’s executive director.

Governor asked to dismiss Rolón

Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat, as chairman of the AFV board, had warned Vázquez, that the newly appointed executive director of that public corporation, Erick Rolón, did not have the panel’s endorsement.

Gil advised the governor of the board’s stance early last week and the governor met with Rolón Saturday and asked him to resign.

Rolón confirmed Monday morning, that he presented his resignation Saturday to the position to which he had been appointed by the former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló two days before he resigned amid the leaked Telegram chat scandal and allegations of corruption in his administration.

Rolón, who until a week ago also served as chief of staff, remains as secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for allegedly mishandling federal funds.

According to reports confirmed by sources familiar with AFV processes, after being appointed by Rosselló, Rolón arrived with a team of assistants who accompanied him from the La Fortaleza governor’s office, whom he appointed to different positions and authorized salaries that raised the agency’s payroll. Among the people Rolón named was José Iván Marrero, the former Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director, whom he appointed as deputy director.

The sources indicated that Rolón’s compensation would be of more than $150,000 between his salary as executive director of AFV, for which he would receive a $130,000 salary, and the difference granted by the Corrections Department, an additional $25,000.

For his part, Marrero’s compensation would exceed $125,000, or twice his $57,000 salary as an OMB employee.

Marrero had resigned as director of OMB and was analyzing government contracts as an adviser at La Fortaleza. The sources said Rosselló was not satisfied with his work in that area either thus his days in La Fortaleza seemed to be numbered.

Although the appointments of Rolón and Marrero happened two weeks ago, by when the former resigned, AFV’s board had not yet authorized them to sign official documents. The agency is responsible for managing millions of dollars in federal funds as part of the reconstruction after Hurricane Maria.

The board had reservations, the sources said, because Rolón had no experience in finance, housing, construction, financing of construction projects or in the federal programs under which AFV operates. The criteria used by Rosselló to make his appointment is unclear.

In addition to Vázquez’s request for Rolón’s resignation, she also disallowed any financial agreement Rosselló granted to Rolón and Marrero.

– CB’s Yanira Hernández contributed to this report.

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