Lake County housing boss returns with busy agenda
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David Northern says he has several initiatives he wants to pursue in his second act as Lake County Housing Authority's boss.
Northern, 39, returned in mid-July, just four months after leaving Lake County for a top job at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Continuing to provide help to residents in foreclosure and creating upgraded, affordable housing options are among the items on his agenda.
"I love Lake County, but I also love being a houser and helping people," he said.
Formed in 1946, the authority supports housing for more than 11,000 Lake County residents with a budget of roughly $30 million and 61 employees. The agency's seven commissioners are appointed to five-year terms by the Lake County Board chairman.
Housing authority commissioners voted 7-0 on July 10 to reappoint Northern to his executive director/chief executive officer post. In March, he left Lake County to become the $155,000-a-year executive vice president of housing operations at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. To make room for Northern, board members voted 7-0 in favor of a voluntary separation agreement for his replacement, Jeneen Smith-Underwood, who had been deputy director when she was elevated. Documents for Smith-Underwood's deal were not immediately available and officials are not saying why she left.
Northern received a four-year contract for $146,466 annually, plus the possibility of a one-time $5,000 bonus when the planned redevelopment of the Marion Jones townhouse site in North Chicago becomes "shovel ready," according to documents received from a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request. He'll also get free family medical coverage, up to $5,000 for relocation expenses and a housing authority vehicle.
Lake County Housing Authority board Chairman R. Delacy Peters touched on why Northern was tabbed to return to his former job.
"David's expertise in affordable housing, his understanding of Lake County and the communities it serves — as well as his in-depth comprehension of the organization's goals and objectives — will provide the leadership the authority needs to meet the ever-increasing challenges of the future," Peters said in a statement.
During his tenure, Northern faced some criticism at public meetings for expenses he incurred for out-of-town travel, including a convention in South Africa. Northern, who became executive director in 2008, said the conferences he attended in a leadership role for a national housing organization helped to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to Lake County.
"With the (federal) budget cuts and sequestration, the travel won't be the same," Northern said.
Ron Friedman, a trustee for Warren-Newport Public Library District in Gurnee, publicly raised concerns about spending, employee turnover and other issues regarding Northern on his first go-round at the housing authority. He questions Northern's reappointment.
"Attending the board's July meeting and hearing the commissioners unanimously approve a contract to bring David Northern back to Lake County Housing Authority, as I did, impressed on me two things: The decision is a big win for cronyism, ineffective management and overt opportunism, but a huge loss for the authority's diligent staff and county's taxpayers," Friedman said in an email.
Northern said he was happy in Lake County, but recruiters started pursuing him after the Philadelphia Housing Authority's executive director resigned in June 2012 because he had an affair with an underling. Philadelphia officials wanted help in cleaning up an agency that was hit by two sex scandals involving executive directors since 2010.
Although he started his new job in Philadelphia in early March, Northern said he continued to be in contact with Lake County housing officials regarding projects that required his input. He said he began applying for other jobs after two months in Philadelphia, and then an opportunity to return to Lake County developed.
"Nothing against the city of Philadelphia," Northern said, "but I didn't feel it was a good fit for me or my family."
In addition to continuing to help residents in foreclosure and creating more affordable living options, Northern said he'll be developing a strategic plan for the Lake County Housing Authority and lead a search for a deputy director.
Northern said he particularly wants to seek more projects such as Mercy Housing's Lakefront Lodge in Grayslake for low-income tenants 55 and older. He also plans to use the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rental Assistance Demonstration initiative, which provides an opportunity for federal tax credits and private financing for affordable public housing rehabilitation.
Lake County Housing Authority is the fourth-largest such agency in Illinois. Public funding for the quasi-governmental agency primarily comes from the federal government.
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