Sanford Housing Authority salutes departing director

Aug. 15, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

When Ken Armstrong took his place as executive director of the Sanford Housing Authority in 2002, there was much work to be done throughout the city.

Now, as he prepares to step down and move back home to his native Florida, the SHA board of commissioners is confident he is leaving the organization in good shape.

"I'm sad he's leaving, because he's done a really fantastic job," said Jimmy Haire, the board's liaison to the Sanford City Council. "But he's left us in a really great position."

Rehabilitating the authority's 450 housing units, building 110 new units of affordable housing and helping close to 100 residents own their own homes are only a portion of the authority's achievements under Armstrong's leadership.

"We've taken a very, very bad stock of public housing and turned it into a very good one," Armstrong said. "We've scored in the high 90s [on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspections], which are some of the highest scores in the country."

Haire said the authority is run so well that the federal government sometimes sends people from other communities to Sanford to study how the city's housing authority does things.

"He's just been really good at what he does," Sanford City Manager Hal Hegwer said of Armstrong. "I mean really good. He understands that business very well and really knows how to capitalize on opportunities. He made [the housing authority] into a great asset for our community."

During Armstrong's time with the SHA, HUD requested that Sanford take over the then-struggling housing authority in Harnett County, which Armstrong said is now performing flawlessly.

"It is running about as good as it can get," Armstrong said. "We've got all the landlords in good shape. It's running at full occupancy."

While the authority's board of commissioners is happy Armstrong will have the opportunity to be closer to his and his wife's families in Florida, board members are sad to see him go.

"He's been a great one to have here as executive director of our housing authority," SHA Commissioner Lowell Hamel said of Armstrong. "He's done wonders over the past 12 years to help rehabilitate a lot of the areas that the Sanford Housing Authority has. We've made a lot of gains to make our areas more productive and more livable, and hes going to be greatly missed."

The next step for the SHA, which has a new development project in the works, will be to find a new executive director to take the helm.

"Our job now is to find a replacement as equally qualified as Ken was," Lowell said. "I was sitting on the board when Ken was hired, and we have a tremendous job ahead of us. Our housing authority is one of the best in this state, if not in the nation, because of his leadership qualities he's brought."

Armstrong served as executive director of the Ormond Beach Housing Authority in Florida for 10 years before coming to Sanford. He and his wife will be moving to Gainesville, Fla., where he will become executive director for the Alachua County Housing Authority.

"It was a very tough decision to be honest with you," Armstrong said of the choice to move back to his home state. "I'm going to miss a lot. We've made a lot of good friends here. I love the small-town feel. I've worked with a lot of cities and counties over the past 25 years. It's been a pleasure working with folks from the city and the county here."

Armstrong said his last day with the SHA is tentatively Dec. 1, and that he hopes to see the organization continue to offer "outside-of-the-box" housing options as federal funding continues to shrink.

"I'm hoping 10 years from now, they'll get to a point where they can almost be sustainable on their own," Armstrong said. "I've always had a great board here. They've always been supportive and right there with help on any ideas. I've got one of the best staffs in the country. I'll definitely miss that as well."