Boughton: Housing agency in good shape at transition

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, October 24, 2012

By Roger Boughton

Austin City Council and HRA board

The end of December will mark nearly a decade of leadership that Jim Hurm has provided to the Austin Housing Redevelopment Authority. He will relinquish his role as director to Jon Erichson, who will be the newly appointed director of the Austin HRA in early January. Jim came to the position in April 2003. The combined position that Jim was hired to perform included the responsibilities of city administrator for the city of Austin, director of the Port Authority and director of the HRA. This combined effort was directed to cut administrative costs and provide a unified and coordinated effort at economic development. He has carried out that responsibility in an extremely fine manner and accomplished significant results.

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Jim will have saved the HRA more than a half million dollars in salary expenses as well as more than $200,000 for the city of Austin.

I sat down with Jim yesterday and listened to some of the positive attributes of the HRA as it is today and what is in store for it in the future. How the HRA is positioned to handle the challenges for the future is a window into Austin’s future. Presently the Austin HRA is either the fourth- or fifth-largest provider of public housing in the state. Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth are the only housing authorities that are larger.

The Austin HRA has Pickett Place, the Twin Towers and scattered site homes. This combination of public housing opportunities has 361 different homes and/or apartments for either families or single individuals. In addition, the Austin HRA owns and manages the Courtyard and Chauncey apartments which offer housing at market rates for 165 additional residents with amenities that you would only expect to see in a large metropolitan city. The Austin HRA also provides rent assistance to an additional 177 families that is often referred to as Section 8 Housing. Is the local housing effective and in demand? Jim indicates that there is a long waiting list for all the various housing units that the Austin HRA owns or supports.

Jim is a quiet individual who would rather shower others with praise than receive it himself. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that Jim has a doctorate in his chosen field of public administration. He has shared that expertise with others by teaching graduate level courses at the University of South Dakota. He is forward-thinking in that within the past two years the agency has undertaken what they refer to as the Housing Improvement Program in a partnership with Riverland Community College’s carpentry program. It is a win-win opportunity for both the HRA and the college. The college and HRA completed their first partnership home this past summer and the program is expected to grow and make a significant change to the look of the community. Jim looks pleased as he thinks about his most pleasurable part of his job. He is quick to note his superb and talented staff both at the HRA and the city of Austin. Most of all he loves what he is doing and is determined to keep his attention on making sure that the city continues to run well, efficient and always looking to work cooperatively and collaborative with others in the city.

Jim looks serious as he says Vision 2020 will bring about a significant positive change to the community of Austin. He has a sense that the entire community is behind the efforts that the various citizen committees are working on to bring about a new direction and look to the community. He will be that quiet individual behind the scenes to ensure that the citizens receive full support for their initiatives and that we see in a few short years a new and revitalized Austin.

As I leave his office I am reminded that the Austin HRA has received numerous awards by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for having such high quality housing available to the citizens of Austin. Thank you to Jim Hurm and the HRA staff.