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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2004 06:35 am

Logan’s run

Willis Logan: "I'm really afraid for the future of housing authorities."

When Willis Logan became executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority in 1997, some called him a glutton for punishment.

After all, from 1991-97, SHA was ranked among the worst public-housing authorities in the nation. Just a year earlier, the federal government had seized control of the beleaguered agency, forcing Logan's predecessor, as well as the five-member SHA board, to resign.

"The position was terribly bleak when I came in," Logan says. "Everybody asked me why in hell would I want this job."

Logan, who tendered his resignation last Thursday, accomplished much during his three-term tenure. Most significantly, he helped lift SHA off the list of troubled agencies, oversaw the demolition of Springfield's largest and most crime-ridden public-housing complex, and supervised construction of the mixed-income development that replaced it.

But as Logan, 61, prepares to relinquish his $90,168-a-year salary at the end of his contract next spring, he says SHA today is in a position no less tenuous than the one it was in on the day he arrived.

Drastic cuts to critical housing-voucher and welfare-to-work programs have made SHA increasingly difficult to operate, he says -- and the reduction in federal funding is likely to worsen.

Logan declines to explain why he is resigning, saying only, "It is time." But he admits that his decision was made, in part, as a result of stress: "My blood pressure will go way down when I leave."

Before heading SHA, Logan helped lead a variety of city and state agencies. In the early '90s he managed the housing division of the state's Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (now Commerce and Economic Opportunity), and through the '80s he served as executive director of the city of Springfield's Department of Community Development. He remains an elected member of the Springfield Park Board.

A Springfield native, Logan was raised on the city's eastside, just a block away from the John Hay Homes, set east of 11th Street between Madison and Reynolds streets. Back then, the densely packed 599-unit public-housing development was still fairly new and well maintained.

But, like many other low-income housing developments built in the World War II-era, the Hay Homes deteriorated into a haven for drugs, prostitution, and gang violence. "All the ills of society were packed into one small place," says Logan, who began razing the project just a few months after being appointed SHA director by then-Mayor Karen Hasara.

Among Logan's proudest achievements is the completion of Madison Park Place, a $35 million, 194-unit development comprising a mix of low-income rental apartments and lease-to-own homes built where the Hay Homes once stood.

Despite these successes, Logan remains pessimistic about the agency's future, often noting that SHA's operating budget has been slashed by 50 percent in just the last eight years. He complains that the Bush administration has plans to eliminate funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's popular Family Self-Sufficiency program and worries that further cuts to the Section 8 housing-voucher program could lead to a surge in homelessness.

"I'm really afraid for the future of housing authorities," Logan says. "I don't like the direction the federal government is taking public housing."

SHA board chairman Bob Schaaf agrees, saying, "The executive director's job, and the board's job, is getting harder."

The end of Logan's tenure at SHA marks the sixth change in the agency's leadership since 1990.

Although Mayor Tim Davlin plans to be "directly involved" in choosing a successor, both Logan and Schaaf say that SHA deputy director Jackie Newman would make a fitting replacement. If selected, Newman would become the first female director of SHA in its more than 60-year history. Newman declined comment.

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