Maggie LaMont, executive director for the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority, is retiring Nov. 30 after more than 30 years with the agency. She’ll be handing the reins over to Dale Inslee, the housing authority’s current director of asset management. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Maggie LaMont has been with the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority almost since its start-up in La Grande in the late 1970s. Leaving after so many years isn’t easy.
But LaMont, who rose from a Gal Friday office position to executive director, has decided it’s time to call it quits. She’s retiring to catch up on her personal interests.“I’ve got this retirement job called ‘Grandma,’ ” she said. “I want to devote more time to that, and I want to travel. I’m 64, and I think it’s time.”
LaMont, an Indiana native, came to La Grande in 1973. She worked at Terry Trailers till 1980, then applied for an entry-level job in the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority office that had opened on Island Avenue in 1976.
The agency, tasked with providing housing for the community’s low income, elderly or disabled, had just three employees. LaMont wore several hats in her first years in the office, functioning as a receptionist, secretary and bookkeeper.
Northeast Oregon Housing Authority programs grew and succeeded. In 1983, the organization built an apartment complex on May Lane, offering housing to clients who otherwise might not be able to afford it. The headquarters moved there, and there it remains today.
In 1987, Executive Director Lynn Schlosser left, and LaMont took the job on an interim basis. Later she was appointed to the post permanently.
“It was one of those things where if we’d hired a director from outside we’d have to train them. I was already here and I wouldn’t need to train myself,” she said.
Today the agency is one of 22 organizations falling under the Oregon Housing Authorities umbrella. It serves Wallowa, Union, Baker and Grant counties.
In addition to subsidizing housing through the federal Housing and Urban Development program, it provides public housing and operates a “rent to own” program for low income families. It also has four units of transitional housing for homeless families.
The agency employs 23 people, including site managers, maintenance workers, and office staff. In a year’s time it helps more than 900 people find safe, sanitary housing.
“We help stabilize families,” LaMont said. “If you’ve got 965 people whose income is less than what the rent is, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
With LaMont stepping down Nov. 30, Dale Inslee, currently the agency’s director of asset management, is getting set to take over as interim director.
Inslee has worked at the agency five years, and LaMont thinks he’s more than capable of running the show.
“I’ve been working with him for a while, and he’s pretty much ready to go,” she said.
Though LaMont will enjoy full retirement sometime soon, she said she’ll be pulling the plug gradually. After Nov. 30, she will help out with two projects already under way.
For one, the housing authority is remodeling a school in Richland in Baker County into a 10-unit living space for elderly clients. Also, the agency is involved in rehabilitating a multi-family housing complex in Prairie City in Grant County.
LaMont has expertise to offer, and she’s not about to leave her co-workers in the lurch.
“I’ll be around to provide technical assistance,” she said.
After watching the Northeast Oregon Housing Authority grow into an agency that helps hundreds of people over a four-county area find decent places to live, LaMont said she has some mixed feelings about giving up her job.
“It’s almost like we’ve matured together,” she said.
She said there are many things about the work she will miss.
“It’s very rewarding when you help families improve their lives,” she said. “It’s just the successes, providing decent housing for people who might otherwise have to live in undesirable conditions.”