Housing director Hite to retire in February

NORTHAMPTON — Jon Hite, executive director of the Northampton Housing Authority, announced he will retire next year after serving for more than 22 years. Hite, who last week notified the authority’s board of commissioners of his decision, said he plans to step down in February 2015.

“I’ve been looking forward to retiring for a couple of years and this is a date that makes sense to me and the authority,” Hite said. “It’s a good time to make the break.”

Joseph DeFazio, chairman of the housing authority’s board, said commissioners have taken steps to begin a search for Hite’s successor. He said the board will seek guidance from the state Department of Housing and Community Development and plans to have a new executive director hired by December or January.

“It will be a very comprehensive and very thorough process,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio, who has worked with Hite for nearly two decades at the housing authority, described the longtime executive director as the “ultimate public servant.”

“He’s just dedicated to the mission of the housing authority, which is to supply good shelter and housing for people who are poor, disabled or elderly,” he said. “It’s a tough job, but he loves it, that’s the thing.”

Hite, 59, of Amherst, was hired as executive director of the quasi-public housing authority in 1992 at age 36, after serving three years as its deputy director. Appointed by the commissioners, he is in the midst of a five-year contract that expires in 2017 which pays $97,300 annually.

A former director of alumni affairs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and one-time candidate for state representative, Hite succeeded the late George J. O’Brien at the housing authority. O’Brien had been executive director for 13 years.

As executive director, Hite oversees more than 600 state and federally subsidized housing units at the McDonald House on Old South Street — which also has the agency’s main offices — Forsander and Cahill Apartments, Tobin Manor, the Walter Salvo House, Hampshire Heights and Florence Heights. The housing authority, the 20th largest in the state, administers a Section 8 housing voucher program, which has nearly quadrupled during Hite’s tenure, and works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to administer HUD-VASH, or housing vouchers, for homeless veterans.

Roy C. Martin, president of the Walter Salvo Tenants Association, said many of the housing authority’s tenants figured Hite was contemplating retirement, but did not think it would be as soon as February 2015. Martin, who was an eight-time candidate for Northampton mayor, said some tenants don’t always see eye-to-eye with Hite, but that he has generally done a good job as director e over the years.

“He has been a good person,” Martin said. “He’s done the best he could with this building (Walter Salvo). There are a 192 units here and there is a problem every day.”

Hite said the last several years have been busy at the housing authority. He added that the agency has completed its capital planning through 2018 and that the housing authority has seen $20 million in modernization work to make its apartments more energy-efficient, modern and safer for what he described as an “increasingly complex mix of residents.”

Hite, who has worked under four Northampton mayors, said he has no immediate plans beyond his departure date but looks forward to doing something else in life and taking a vacation where he is not on-call or carrying a beeper. “It’s been a long time,” Hite said. “It’s a very stressful job, at least it is for me. I’m looking forward to finishing up here and turning the reins over to someone else.”

Two days after announcing his retirement at a board of commissioners meeting, Hite sent a lengthy and wide-ranging letter to friends, colleagues, staff, local and state officials, reflecting on his time at the housing authority and helping to provide essential services to people “who really need a break,” as he put it.

“For some, a decent, safe and clean apartment with affordable rent, in a community that values its schools and honors its diversity, provides the first step a single mother can give her kids toward a running start in life,” Hite wrote. “For others, a place of their own is the alternative to an institution or the streets. And for others, who live from one Social Security check to the next, a clean, bright apartment in a building where a nutritious lunch is served daily, located next to the activities offered in the Senior Center, gives a reason to look forward to the next day.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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