People in need of low-income housing will see a familiar face as Guy Mikkelsen has been hired as the new executive director of the Williams Housing Authority.
Mikkelsen assumed duties in early July after a short year and a half retirement from running the Williams Food Bank and the St. Agnes senior apartments. Former Williams Housing Authority Executive Director Debbie Fuller retired after 28 years at the Housing Authority.
“Debbie said she was retiring and they began looking for somebody,” Mikkelsen said. “They called me and thought I’d be a good fit. There aren’t a lot of people in Williams with that experience — public housing is a niche.”
The executive director position is subsidized by the federal HUD Housing Program and administered by the city of Williams, although Mikkelsen is a city employee. The Williams Housing Authority Board of Commissioners oversees the program.
“We get a renewable grant each month,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s federal funding, HUD money that pays my position.”
The 30 low-income apartments are owned by the city of Williams and have been administered by HUD for over 30 years. When Fuller decided to retire, the city considered running the low-income housing in-house itself or turning it over the Flagstaff Housing Authority.
“If they couldn’t find someone to take her position they were going to turn it over (to Flagstaff Housing Authority),” Mikkelsen said. “That would have been difficult. I think it’s nice to have someone local. I’ve already had contact with most of the residents the say ‘It’s Guy, I know him.’”
Mikkelsen will oversee the apartments in several locations around Williams, his duties include completing maintenance on the facilities himself or hiring a contractor.
“We really don’t have the budget for a full-time position, so we let that position go,” Mikkelsen said. “I can hire out for most things and get help with landscaping, painting, plumbing and apartment turnovers.”
Mikkelsen will also administer the Housing Choice Voucher program, which is rental assistance at existing rentals in Williams.
The 30 apartments and most of the allotted vouchers have been claimed, Mikkelsen said.
“There is a huge waiting list for the apartments, and the people that have them generally hang on to them for a while,” Mikkelsen said. “A lot of people in Williams qualify, they are families working for hotels and restaurants and other major employers who have some of the lower level positions.”
For the vouchers, Mikkelsen said he has a few left but those will most likely be picked up quickly.
“There’s definitely a housing crunch,” Mikkelsen said.
Mikkelsen said not only is rental housing expensive in Williams, but availability is extremely limited.
“People are saying they are having a hard time finding rentals because so many people have converted their properties into vacation rentals instead of full-time rentals,” he said.
Although the waitlist is long, Mikkelsen said he did have three apartment turnovers over the past three months.
“There is some wiggle room, but there are preferences,” he said. “There are points given for each preference, and there are people that have a lot of points. But it can help as far as getting you closer to the top of the list.”
Anyone interested in applying for the low-income apartments or the voucher program is encouraged to stop by 620 W. Sheridan on Mondays or Tuesdays, or call (928) 635-4717.
According to the National Center for Health in Public Housing, over 2 million people live in public housing and another 4.1 million live in Section 8 housing.
More than 21 percent of public housing residents and 50 percent of those in Section 8 housing fall into HUD’s very low income category, with those in public housing making an average of $14,511 and those in Section 8 $13,702.
The first efforts to build public housing began in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Concerned about a shortage of affordable housing, the federal government loaned money to housing authorities, which then built units and repaid the loans with money earned from collecting rent. The program became more formal with the 1937 Housing Act, which sought to create jobs and build housing.
But public-housing authority budgets took a big hit after World War II as working-class residents moved out and the poor remained. A set amount was charged for rent, but this increasingly amounted to a larger and larger percentage of the incomes of the people still living in public housing, in part because the federal government was hesitant to subsidize public housing.
In some small cities, though, public housing has worked and continues to work. By and large, research has shown that smaller agencies across the country have been more successful at providing good public housing for residents than giant city agencies have.