February 6, 2005: Headlines: COS - Central African Republic: Housing: Kingston Daily Freeman: THE philosophical bent of Steve Fischer's pursuits, especially in his housing job, are an outgrowth of his experiences as a member of the Peace Corps from 1981-84 in the Central African Republic

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Central African Republic: Peace Corps Central African Republic : The Peace Corps in the Central African Republic: February 6, 2005: Headlines: COS - Central African Republic: Housing: Kingston Daily Freeman: THE philosophical bent of Steve Fischer's pursuits, especially in his housing job, are an outgrowth of his experiences as a member of the Peace Corps from 1981-84 in the Central African Republic

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THE philosophical bent of Steve Fischer's pursuits, especially in his housing job, are an outgrowth of his experiences as a member of the Peace Corps from 1981-84 in the Central African Republic

THE philosophical bent of Steve Fischer's pursuits, especially in his housing job, are an outgrowth of his experiences as a member of the Peace Corps from 1981-84 in the Central African Republic

THE philosophical bent of Steve Fischer's pursuits, especially in his housing job, are an outgrowth of his experiences as a member of the Peace Corps from 1981-84 in the Central African Republic

Master of the houses steps down after 16 years

By Paul Kirby, Freeman staff


Caption: Steve Fischer chats with Rondout Gardens resident Dorothy Dotson and her 11-year-old grandson, Rickey Dixon.

STEVE Fischer tilted his head sideways, paused, then mustered the words to describe the job he left last week.

"I have been given the opportunity to see people with struggles given four solid walls and a roof over their head," said Fischer, the 47-year-old former executive director of the Kingston Housing Authority. "They had one less major headache to worry about and could straighten their lives out."

He paused again, then added: "If you are given that opportunity, like I have been, where you can do that for people, you are a lucky person."

FOR 16 years, Fischer has been at the helm of the Kingston Housing Authority, steering its course as the major supplier of affordable housing in Ulster County. Most agree he has been a passionate advocate for those who rely on the agency's services.

During Fischer tenure, the Housing Authority's staff more than doubled, from 10 to 25, and more than 230 subsidized residential units were added to the agency's portfolio, which now totals 657 apartments throughout the city and the neighboring town of Ulster.

Those units have been added through the authority's purchase of the Stuyvesant Charter apartment complex off Flatbush Avenue, construction of the Brigham senior apartments on O'Neil Street and the authority's agreement to manage the privately owned Chambers Senior Court complex in Ulster.

As executive director, Fischer oversaw the authority's $4 million budget.

FISCHER'S efforts have been lauded locally and have not gone unnoticed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that supplies some of the agency's subsides. A photograph in Fischer's office shows him with HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

"Steve Fischer is hardworking and innovative," said Adam Glantz, a spokesman for the federal agency. "He has worked tirelessly to make the Kingston Housing Authority a high-performing authority. He is a wonderful public servant who has made serving his residents a high priority."

THREE years ago, Fischer was appointed to the Public Housing Authority Directors Association, a well-regarded national advocacy group, and he recently was named president of the state Public Housing Authority Director Association.

Last month, Fischer was among those honored on Martin Luther King Day as a "Hero in Our Back Yard" by the Kings Kids program at St. Clara's Church of God in Christ in Kingston.

KINGSTON Mayor James Sottile, a strong advocate for affordable housing, said Fischer's work at the Housing Authority was "exemplary."

"I can usually judge the success of something by the number of complaints I get," Sottile said recently. "I have gotten very few complaints about complexes at the Kingston Housing Authority. ... Steve has taken the Housing Authority through some difficult times and provided a safe environment for people."

BUT IT WAS the difficult times, particularly with the agency's board of directors, that drove Fischer to announce in October that he would not renew his contract, which was to expire in March. Fischer's last day on the job was Feb. 1. Terry Bell, the agency's top housing manger and the former city treasurer, has been named interim executive director.

The crux of the strain between Fischer and the board was that he wanted to extend the authority's reach outside of Kingston, partnering with developers for a fee, and create more affordable housing not only in Ulster County, but perhaps throughout the Hudson Valley.

The board, although agreeable to at least a management fee for the oversight of the Chambers Senior Court project in the town of Ulster, balked at any additional housing or partnership ventures outside the city.

And while no one, including Fischer, says so publicly, some have suggested privately that a strained relationship between Fischer and Kingston developer Steve Aaron, who built the Chambers apartments and is constructing a Kingston apartment complex called Birchwood Village, also influenced the Housing Authority chief to call it quits.

The Housing Authority has entered into a limited partnership and management agreement with Aaron on Birchwood Village, which is being built on Flatbush Avenue.

Aaron would not comment on his relationship with Fischer.

WHATEVER Fischer's reasons for leaving the Housing Authority, Kingston Alderwoman Ann Marie DiBella, a vocal advocate for the homeless, said his departure is a blow to Ulster County and efforts to build quality affordable housing.

"He set a tone for accountability and respect at the Housing Authority," said DiBella, D-Ward 5. "People wanted to be at those complexes because they knew they were well taken care of and that they were a safe place to raise children."

ULSTER County Legislator Jeanette Provenzano, a member of the authority's board of directors, said she was disheartened by Fischer's departure but thought he wanted too much to have things his way. Provenzano, D-Kingston, said when the board made suggestions, Fischer took them "as an insult."

"Personally, I like Steve Fischer and I respect him and I really did truly feel bad, in the end, that he made the decision to leave," Provenzano said.

FOR HIS part, Fischer said he felt he had no choice but to give up his $94,000-a-year position.

"There are side effects to (the board's) approach that will negatively impact on the organization and are contrary to what I recommend that we do for this place to keep it healthy," Fischer said. "If they are going on a different course, they should really have someone who believes that that course they are going to pursue is right."

THE philosophical bent of Fischer's pursuits, especially in his housing job, are an outgrowth of his experiences as a member of the Peace Corps from 1981-84. He said the time he spent teaching English in the Central African Republic shaped his role as a public housing advocate.

"I know it may sound corny, but the Peace Corps motto is 'Helping People to Help Themselves,'" Fischer said. "After analyzing it over the years, I grew to appreciate it as one of the better programs that the government ever came up with."

Fischer, who competes in triathlons as a hobby, said the aims of the Peace Corps and the Housing Authority are similar.

"This program, too, is a two-way street," Fischer said of the Housing Authority. "People have to be involved in the program, contribute to it and continually earn your spot, and then it motivates you to earn your way out of the program. It is helping people to help themselves."

FISCHER SAID he worked well in the Peace Corps because he got to know and understand the culture of the place he was assigned. And he drew on that experience as the Housing Authority chief, he said.

"You got to Africa and you are sent into a small village and you are in a different culture and you have to learn it," Fischer said. "If you don't, you can't be effective. Communities have their own culture as well. ... You need to relate to the people you are trying to assist help themselves."

ADDITIONALLY, Fischer remains convinced that the financial stability of the Kingston Housing Authority depends on its ability to draw funding from sources other than the government.

"We are working under state and federal governments at the same time where both believe that our business is not needed," Fischer said. "That could change a few years down the road, but you should prepare for the worst and build this business as solid as you possibly can so that you can withstand any changing winds in the government picture."

THERE ARE those who hoped Fischer could have weathered the storm and stayed at the helm of the Housing Authority.

Dorothy Dotson, a 68-year-old grandmother of four who has lived at the Rondout Gardens apartment complex in Downtown Kingston for three years, said Fischer's hands-on approach to running the authority's residential developments has been invaluable.

"He looked out for the children, and he is a very nice man," Dotson said. "He would come around, and if you needed anything, he would get the maintenance people to help out. ... He just did a tremendous job."

Fischer said he has no immediate plans for the future.

©Daily Freeman 2005

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Story Source: Kingston Daily Freeman

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Central African Republic; Housing



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