With Lashkowitz High Rise project on the horizon, Fargo housing authority undergoes leadership change
Longtime chief deputy to take over as director as Matt Pike leave for new challenge
FARGO — Fargo's Housing & Redevelopment Authority, facing two major projects in the coming year, will have a new executive director starting March 2.
Jill Elliott, who has been chief deputy director since 1994, will replace Matthew Pike, who has been with the agency for 2.5 years and accepted a position in San Francisco as a consultant with its housing authority.
Elliott said she's a little scared but excited about her new role, as she's been with the authority 43 years. She started by working with low-income and disabled tenants — a job she said was her first love.
Although she was thinking about going back into tenant services in her final years, she said she wanted to make sure a smooth transition was occurring with the future of the Lashkowitz High Rise building downtown undergoing an intense study this year and with the groundbreaking near for a new 84-unit Elliott Place senior housing facility in south Fargo.
"I didn't want to let our tenants, staff and community down," Elliott said.
Pike, who is a lawyer, said Elliott is the "perfect fit" for the job.
He said the Fargo HRA will "always be in good hands with Jill there."
"She's done everything and has seen it all," he said about her many roles with the agency that helps provide housing for poor, disabled and senior citizens. "I don't think in the rest of my working career that I'll have a closer friend or treasured colleague."
Both are dedicated to trying to find the best results with the two major projects ahead.
Before he leaves, Pike is finalizing a memorandum of understanding to secure a contract to develop the high rise project with BlueLine Development Inc. of Missoula, Mont. BlueLine specializes in affordable housing.
He said the company officials will be crunching numbers to see if it's best to rehabilitate the building or demolish it. Other considerations are looking at what the market needs for affordable housing and also what the city sees as the best use for the two-acre site next to the Red River.
One certainty, he said, is that the number of units will be lowered from the current 247 to about 110 in any new project.
He said tenants deserve more room than they have in the densely populated Lashkowitz High Rise.
"It's just too congested, and whatever happens, the tenants deserve more space," he said. While some are disabled or senior citizens, others are people with lower incomes who are going through a period when they need assistance.
If the building is saved, Pike said, it has to be gutted to the bricks because of asbestos and lead.
"It'll have to start from scratch," he said.
As for Elliott Place, which the HRA board named after the new authority director, Elliott said it'll be a place where seniors can live by paying 30% of their income and not having to lose their entire life savings to a nursing home. The 84 units will offer 24-hour staffing, meals and other amenities.
It's obvious the two leaders, who have known each other for years through national and regional organization meetings, are dedicated to caring for their tenants.
Besides the major building issues, it shows up in the authority's response to COVID-19. Pike said at the outset of the pandemic last March they immediately began making sure that tenants, maintenance and other staff were safe.
He said it was one of the biggest challenges of the past year.
Elliott said Pike has been "a good leader," and she especially liked how he told their staff that they deserve respect, too, just as the tenants do.
"He told us we should be respected and unapologetic for what we do, as we are compassionate and are making a difference for people," she said.