New housing authority director isn't one to take job sitting down

New housing authority director isn't one to take job sitting down

CHAMPAIGN — David A. Northern Sr. is of the mindset that in his field, a job well done means leaving your desk.

The newly appointed director of the Housing Authority of Champaign County said he doesn't see his work as a spectator sport.

"You have to be in the trenches working hard, and that's the type of person I am," Northern said. "You have to let individuals know and see that you care about where they work and play."

Nearly eight months after former HACC Director Ed Bland left for a job in Virginia, the agency's board of commissioners announced Northern's appointment Wednesday following a national search.

The board said he'll receive a base salary of $161,000 per year.

An Indiana native, Northern is making the move south after 15 years at the helm of Lake County's housing authority. He said he hasn't yet set an exact start date and might work from home for a bit beforehand.

Northern's move will also be a homecoming of sorts. His wife, Crystal, is from Champaign and has a background in higher education, so she's looking at job opportunities at the University of Illinois, he said.

But it's HACC's Moving to Work and Rental Assistance Demonstration programs that drew Northern to the job. He noted that not all of the country's housing authorities have those programs.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Moving to Work "provides the opportunity to design and test innovative, locally designed strategies that use federal dollars more efficiently, help residents find employment ... and increase housing choices for low-income families."

Rental Assistance Demonstration, meanwhile, aims to preserve and rehabilitate public housing properties "and address the $26 billion nationwide backlog of deferred maintenance."

One of Northern's goals for this job is to decrease the agency's dependency on federal funding. He said that type of funding is down for all housing authorities and that he'll focus on advancing public-private partnerships instead.

Another of his goals is giving clients a well-rounded set of life services in addition to more affordable housing where needed.

"I firmly believe in giving people a hand up instead of a handout," Northern said. "I want to provide job training and education resources, and change the achievement gaps of people in subsidized housing."

To better gauge the needs of his new community, Northern said he'll find ways to get involved. He currently serves on the school board in Grayslake in addition to sitting on the Lake County Sheriff's Merit Commission.

"I'm not just a 'houser' — I consider myself a community leader," Northern said. "I have to be out front working and collaborating with other organizations."

Northern said he wants to dismantle the stigma that paints people who live in public housing as individuals who are looked down upon. He said they're typically senior citizens, people with disabilities or people overcoming obstacles in their lives.

One way Northern thinks he can accomplish that — and enhance the lives of his clients — is by creating mixed-income communities.

"So for people who may not have experience with mowing a lawn, they can look out their window and see others doing it," Northern said. "Seeing a person learn and grow once we help them out is like having a cold glass of water on a hot day."

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