Tony Lentych: The New Leader of Traverse City’s Housing Commission
Tony Lentych’s first day on the job as the new executive director of the Traverse City Housing Commission (TCHC) was March 9. He replaces Ilah Honson, who headed the organization for more than nine years. The TCHC’s mission is to provide quality, affordable housing options that enhance residents’ opportunities for self-sufficiency and economic independence. The TC Business News sat down with Lentych to learn a bit more about his strategies and vision for the organization.
TCBN: A lack of vision, strategic thinking and innovative problem-solving were criticisms of the last executive director. What is your vision as the commission’s new leader?
Lentych: I do not have any first-hand knowledge of any issues with the previous director. I do know, however, that this agency is in really good shape on several “structural” levels and she should share in the credit for that. Our healthy state of affairs as an organization allows us to move forward on any new goals that we choose. My first days here were not spent ‘putting out fires’ by any means. My vision is simple: To help other organizations where ever we can, and to find partners to work in the areas of the greatest housing needs as quickly as possible. I just plan to meet as many people as possible and find out what is going on their worlds.
TCBN: What do you see as the commission’s biggest strength? Biggest weakness?
Lentych: It is clear to me that the level of engagement of our commissioners in fulfilling the mission of this housing authority is outstanding and refreshing. Not only do they care deeply about what we do, they are extremely excited about some of the growth opportunities on the horizon. When you couple that with a staff that is really impressive and eager to engage the future, we seem to have a solid head start. Right now, our biggest weakness is knowing exactly what to do first. Too many choices can paralyze an organization so we have to use our upcoming strategic planning sessions to plan effectively, adjust expectations and move forward collectively.
TCBN: The issue of affordable/workforce housing has risen to near fever pitch in Traverse City. Can you offer some insight into your plan of attack so this community can start to effectively address this issue?
Lentych: Yes indeed this conversation is happening right now and at almost all levels (business, government and personal) and that is remarkable for a number of reasons. There are communities across this country that have not gotten this far in the discussion so we are fortunate that the problem has been somewhat identified and that there is a general sense that something needs to be done. TCHC is just one player in the ongoing conversation so I don’t want to misstep here right out of the gate but I can safely say that we will do what we can today and tomorrow to help address the need. My personal goal is to fit into as many collaborations as possible. Sometimes we will be supporting another player and sometime we may be in the lead. Regardless, it is far better to have as many players around the table on this topic as possible.
TCBN: What unique challenges is Traverse City faced with when it comes to affordable/workforce housing?
Lentych: To me there is one clear problem … land. Our land is highly desirable for many obvious reasons (three to five months of heavy tourism, for example, has a tremendous ‘domino’ effect on the entire region) and this causes two problems. One, with such high demand for land, the price to acquire it keeps increasing and this affects the price points of your final product no matter what you are building (affordable or market rate). The second issue is much more nuanced; it is the ‘highest and best use’ argument over what land is available for development – and I am most sensitive to this argument. It is important for a community to know what it wants and what it needs, and to know how to achieve both goals. This allows conversations on “where to build” and “what to build” that is more constructive and less reactionary.
TCBN: The commission is about to release its 3-5 year strategic plan. Can you give us a little sneak peek into that strategic plan?
Lentych: I was pleased to learn during the interview process that strategic planning was already scheduled! This is a tremendous opportunity for the staff and the commission to survey our environment, to examine abilities and to plan our future based upon any and all assessments. I suspect we are 60-90 days away from releasing the executive summary of any plan but I can promise you this: we will be seeking public input during this process. So if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions for us, just let me know (email@example.com). We want and need input from all of our stakeholders (partners, neighbors, customers, etc.) – it’s the only way we can truly succeed.