Housing panel hires new director
On Sunday, Richard Leco will officially become the executive director of the Jamestown Housing Authority. Leco, who has been serving as interim director since Oct. 13, was named to the permanent position at a meeting of the Housing Authority on March 14.
There were at least 10 applicants for the open position and the firm hired to choose a replacement eventually picked two candidates for the board’s consideration. In the end, Leco was the only applicant interviewed for the job.
Housing Authority Chairman Ernest Anthony reports that there were no significant snags in finding a new director, despite the fact that the search took several months. The former director, Ron DuPont, resigned last September amid some controversy. DuPont cited interference from one of the commissioners, who he did not name, as being the reason for his departure.
When DuPont left, the Housing Authority hired Dauwer Associates, an executive search firm from Needham, Mass. In the meantime, Leco held down the post.
“He has an extensive back- ground in housing authorities,” Anthony said. “He’s been the executive director at a couple of other housing authorities prior to becoming a consultant.”
Leco has been a prominent presence in the housing industry for more than 35 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Curry College in Milton, Mass., and a master’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration in government from Harvard. He was the director of housing in his hometown of North Attleboro, Mass., for 11 years, where he was also town administrator for four years.
Leco served as a deputy director for Congressman Barney Frank for a year, working specifically on housing issues, and was the director of housing in Central Falls for 11 years. He held a similar position for four years in New London, Conn., and for the last eight years he has been working as a consultant in the housing industry. He is a former president of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials for the New England region, and the current president of the Massachusetts chapter.
According to Leco, he will bring a tried and true method to his new role. “The main focus is going to be opening the agency to more of a partnership with the residents, with more resident participation,” he said. “That’s my management style, that’s what I’ve done throughout the years.”
Leco said he wants to make sure he dots the i’s and cross the t’s for all of the technical reporting requirements for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“We also remember that behind all the brick and mortar, and behind all the numbers, they represent people,” he said. “This is a home for people and we want them involved in how their home is operated.”
Leco reports that his relationship with the tenants at Pemberton Apartments has been “very good” so far, and that they’ve welcomed him with open arms. He has been meeting with the tenants on a regular basis and says that the meetings have been well received, and that the tenants are welcoming the opportunity.
Since Leco is only on site three days a week, the pay for his position has been cut somewhat from that of past directors. His staff has also been cut. Where there were once three full-time authority employees, there is now 1.5. “We cut it in half, and we’re looking at contracting our different services to try to save on that end,” Leco said.
Federal budget cuts are of great concern to Leco. While the Housing Authority does have an operating reserve, recent changes to HUD policies are of great concern. “A $1 billion cut in the public industry this past year has had a real impact on all housing authorities, whether it’s the Jamestown Housing Authority or the New York City Housing Authority,” he said. “That’s a pretty big cut.”
Leco said that there could be an additional 10 to 30 percent in cuts on top of what has already been absorbed. In addition to staff cuts and outsourcing, Leco hopes to conserve money by reducing energy costs.
According to Anthony, the housing board has been pleased with Leco’s performance in the interim role. “The residents like him,” Anthony said. “The atmosphere has completely changed up there.”
Leco is enjoying his new role in Jamestown. “It’s a wonderful place,” he said. “The people are great. Although I’m listed at three days a week here, I’m going to put in whatever hours it takes to make sure that the job is done. It’s becoming a second home for me. The board, the residents, everyone has been just tremendous. I’m very humble that the board would be that supportive to hire me on.”