CHATHAM – The best part of working for the housing authority, said retiring executive director John Stewart, is getting to know the residents.
“We've had some very colorful characters,” he said. “I don't mean that in a bad way. People have very interesting histories. It was nice to know people that way.”
Tomorrow will be Stewart's last day as director of both the Chatham and Harwich housing authorities, a tenure that he said has been “wonderful” and fulfilling. Tracy Cannon, longtime administrative assistant at the agency, will be stepping into Stewart's shoes, and Kayta Khoehler Rice will take over the administrative assistant position.
“It just seemed like a good opportunity,” he said. He'd already learned many of the duties of the job, but acknowledged that the paperwork side of things posed something of a challenge.
“It was a big learning curve,” he said.
The Chatham and Harwich housing authorities had been merged under the previous director. The Chatham agency manages a number of properties, most of them located on Crowell Road, including the 40-unit Anchorage for seniors and the disabled; the Captain Bearse House congregate living facility; and 12 units of family housing. The agency also operates two group homes with the state department of mental health.
The Harwich Housing Authority operates 12 units of family housing as well as eight special needs units leased to Fellowship Health Resources Inc. Both agencies also oversee state rental housing voucher programs as well as town-sponsored housing assistance.
The Chatham MCI rent-to-own program is a particular highlight of that agency's portfolio, Stewart said. Four homes formerly part of the MCI-RCA radio property and a fifth house on Crowell Road added last year are rented for five years, with half of the rent escrowed and available to the families leasing the property to apply toward a downpayment on a house.
“We just recently had a family buy a house and a new family ready to move in,” he said. “It's been very successful.”
One early challenge Stewart faced on the job was when the state transitioned waiting lists online. The agency had to hire a part-time staffer to help get caught up on the system. “They had some issues when it started,” Stewart said, “but it's been pretty much ironed out.”
With a limited number of units and long waiting lists, it can be difficult trying to find housing for those who need it. And other than the MCI program, the housing authority doesn't get involved in helping people, including young families, find market rate or “attainable” housing.
“It's tough. In Chatham, you just don't have the property” to build new affordable housing, “and what's out there is very expensive,” he said. “It will take some creative work.”
Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives offered its congratulations to Stewart in the form of a resolution, sponsored by Rep. Sarah Peake, recognizing his 24 years of “dedicated service to the Chatham Housing Authority and the community of Chatham.”
“That was very nice,” Stewart said.
With Cannon's knowledge of the agencies, he anticipates a smooth transition. “I look forward to seeing what will happen here in the future,” he said.
A Harwich resident, Stewart said he has no particular plans for retirement, and will be available to help the agencies if needed.
“I'll stay busy,” he said.