Chester Housing Authority

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Delaware County Daily Times: CHA's 'less is more' boss gets contract extension

More than a year ahead of the current contract's expiration, the Chester Housing Authority has extended Executive Director Steven A. Fischer's contract into 2021.After arriving in 2005, Fischer took a less-is-more approach, quickly shrinking the size of the CHA staff while increasing the number of services. Once in receivership, Fischer was able to help guide the ailing CHA back to solvency while increasing the number of programs available to residents.

The CHA has 800 public housing units and 1,566 Section 8 units through a housing choice voucher program. They are responsible for 2,400 households in Chester, averaging about 3 people per household.Fischer's salary under the new contract is $155,000, up from his original salary of $125,000 in 2005. He refused pay raises in the early years until the agency moved into sound financial footing.In years since his arrival, Fischer expanded programs that allowed residents to participate in a summer hot meals program, computer classes for young students and an expanded after-school program so that kids have year-round access to computer labs and a snack.He has raised private funds to pay for health and wellness programs including exercise classes.

"(We) had to make our mission about more than bricks and mortar," Fischer said. "We had to make it about the people who live in the homes."The Ruth L. Bennett Community Farm has expanded under his watch, now spanning several acres and serving as an education center of blossoming urban farmers.Fischer started a program that gave opportunities to ex-convicts who were desperate for work upon leaving the prison system, noting his belief that finding employment is the most important thing a person leaving incarceration can do.Despite a lack of funding to offer services like professional counseling and job placement, Fischer said the goal was always to help the people who might be walking the thin line between rehabilitation and recidivism.

"It's more important that they are out and have employment," Fischer said.The reduction in the housing authority's staff is less than half of what it was in 2006, and it did not require massive layoffs. Through a combination of attrition and performance-based terminations Fischer found it led to a much more efficient operation.In 2005, the CHA employed a total of 97 employees. By 2015, the CHA had 30 full-time employees and 17 part-time employees.

Between 2005 and 2013, nearly half of the full-time employees shifted to part-time and temporary as the organization "carefully phased" the staff reductions to "avoid the trauma of sudden drastic reductions in force."Under Fischer's model, the agency provides security and maintenance services to other Chester entities to raise additional revenue. Nearly 20 percent of all properties in the city of Chester are managed by the CHA. And through continued government rollbacks, Fischer and the CHA have continued to find ways to keep contributing to the community.

"When you compound the federal funding cutbacks for housing with the devastating effects the recession left behind for poor people, it just makes the need that much greater," Fischer said in 2015.Even now, Fischer and CHA have found allies in the City Council and with Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland."Our charge is to motivate our families to uplift," Fischer said. "I love my work and the results we were seeing, and the contract extension provides me and our staff the signal we need moving forward."