Wellington Housing Authority celebrates 50 years in business

Several years before Fort Collins established a housing authority, the town of Wellington recognized a need and took action in 1965. This year the Wellington Housing Authority celebrates its 50th year working to provide safe, clean, affordable housing for low income residents. A celebration is planned for noon to 3 p.m. on Sept. 12.

The authority owns and operates 42 units. The Wells Acres senior complex is made up of 16 one-bedroom apartments plus a clubhouse that can also be used for social gatherings and meetings by residents of the 26 family rental units owned by the authority around town.

Robert Eyestone served as the first chairman of the Wellington Housing Authority joined by commissioners Paul Baker, Frank Reckard, Archie Hain and Robert Schmidt, all appointed by the Wellington Town Board. Leon C. Hines served as executive director.

Today the board is chaired by Mishie Daknis and members include vice chairman Barry Friedrichs and commissioners Mathew Michels, Sherri Lenz and Bob Novascone. Lenz and Novascone are housing authority residents.

The Fort Collins Housing Authority has a contract with Wellington to provide property management functions for the authority but the board is responsible for policy-making and fiscal management and oversees improvement projects.

Housing authorities across the country came into existence as a result of the federal Fair Housing Act enacted in 1937. The local Authority receives a federal operating subsidy from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and is a quasi-governmental entity formed under Colorado enabling legislation.

A family self-sufficiency program designed to help families become economically independent and free of public assistance operates under the auspices of the Wellington Housing Authority and is coordinated by Michele Christensen, director of resident services for the Fort Collins Housing Authority.

Commissioner Lenz credits the program with giving her the boost she needed to acquire more education and become economically self-sufficient. Ten years ago, when she was laid off from an office clerk position she’d held for 11 years at the Fort Collins Coloradoan, she found herself without an income and responsible for five young children. After seeing the “handwriting on the wall,” she’d signed up for the family self-sufficiency program several months before her job came to an end.

Assistance from the Housing Authority became the most important component of Lenz’s efforts to find a job that could support her family. Christensen made sure Lenz had the funds needed to complete her paralegal degree at Front Range Community College in Westminster and made it possible for her to access the necessary funds when Lenz’s vehicle needed $3,000 in repairs.

“Michele was my coach,” Lenz said. “She was always encouraging, helped me to secure a grant and even made sure my kids had Christmas gifts.”

Her journey was long. Lenz was unemployed for five years before she landed an internship at the State of Colorado Division of Youth Corrections. Last December her internship evolved into a full-time position as an administrative assistant. In December she will have completed her probationary year and will be a full-fledged employee.

“She’s my rock star,” Christensen said of Lenz.

“I love working with youth,” Lenz said, indicating that she’d been on the other end of drug and alcohol problems and was pleased to see how Youth Corrections works to help young people. Today she’s off all public assistance except for housing and is forever grateful for the help that has made that possible. Lenz has served on the Housing Authority Board for close to three years.

Commissioner Novascone has been on the board since 2010 and a resident since 2006.

“I kept quiet for the first year,” Novascone said. “Then one day I mentioned the fact that one washer and dryer for the 16 apartments in the senior complex wasn’t sufficient.” The board responded quickly. “That’s just an example of why it is a good thing to have residents on the board,” he said. “We tend to be in tune with the needs of residents.” Novascone says he enjoys being a spokesperson for his fellow residents.

He recognizes the growing need for affordable housing in the Wellington area and points out that the waiting list has more than 700 names on it.

The Wellington Housing Authority operates 25 units for families who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income although most of the families served earn below 30 percent of the area median income. Residents pay roughly 30 percent of their income for rent. Eighty percent of median income in Wellington was $58,192 in 2013 compared with $38,333 in 2000.

Fifty years of making affordable living possible is a milestone to celebrate although the need continues to grow far faster than individuals and families can be accommodated.

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