North Brooklyn lost one of its greatest advocates when David Pagan passed away late last month. Pagan, a local community development pioneer best known for his 31-year tenure with Southside United HDFC, used his financial wisdom, organizational savvy, and generous character to serve tenants in Williamsburg for decades with Los Sures.
Pagan passed away on Sept. 20 after a short illness. The sad news was released by the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, of which he was a founding board member.
“Not only are we losing a giant icon in housing, but we’re losing his memory of his 30 years with [us],” Los Sures Executive Director Ramon Peguero said. Peguero was recruited by Pagan to be his successor, and looks on Pagan as a father figure. “He was a quiet yet powerful person. He was soft-spoken; his power came through action. He always told me, ‘Be careful how you use your power.’”
Pagan took his own advice: his life is a study in gentle power used well. Born in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, Pagan arrived in Brooklyn in 1956. He spent his teenage years in Williamsburg and Bushwick. He studied marketing at New York City College of Technology, after which he was drafted in the Army to serve as an infantryman in the Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam. Once stateside again, he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and economics from Queens College and went on to earn an MBA from St. John’s University.
Barbara Schiff, director of housing resources for Los Sures, remembers Pagan as a key part of ensuring Los Sures’ financial perpetuity, but that initially, he wasn’t sure he was the right person for the executive director job. “His forte was fiscal,” Schiff said. “He grew into the position. We needed somebody, and he really headed us through some rough times. He was able to calmly diffuse things.”
Pagan organized tenants into coops and even took on the role as the designated 7A Administrator for buildings when tenants needed one in order to get their coop approved. He also regularly went above and beyond his call of duty as director by giving one-on-one financial counsel to community members connected to Los Sures and occasionally standing guard late into the night over the office computers when there was a neighborhood threat of theft.
As director, Pagan cultivated a literal open-door policy by actually removing his office door from its hinges.
Council Member Antonio Reynoso said, “I was truly saddened to hear of the sudden passing of David Pagan. For decades, his role in organizing the Williamsburg community around fair and adequate housing served as the catalyst for how the Southside would continue to demand social justice even to this day. Residents have come to my office and shared the many times David helped changed their lives for the better. I was deeply inspired by his vision, his compassion, and his commitment to la lucha. The impact that he left on Los Sures, and me is profound. May his family find solace and may he rest in peace.”
“He had everything in perspective,” Peguero said.“He gave his all to his job, but family came first. No matter what the topic, he made a point to bring up his kids.”
With a smile in their voices, both Peguero and Schiff said Pagan never truly left Los Sures after his retirement in 2010 — he appeared around the office checking in and staying involved. He joined the board around 2015.
“David was always giving of himself. He wanted to help people,” Peguero said. “He did everything from the inside out.”