When Tom Kemper leaves his post as executive director at Housing Works next month, he’ll leave pretty big shoes to fill, said a former colleague at the public housing authority for Central Oregon.
“They may not be fillable at all,” said Kenny LaPoint, assistant public affairs director at Oregon Housing and Community Services. “Tom’s going to be very much missed in Central Oregon because of the expertise he brings.”
Kemper, 65, announced his retirement Jan. 19, to take effect in March. He came into the job with a plan to exit after about five years, and the death of a good friend six months after his own retirement, for Kemper, reinforced the decision.
Kemper said he and his wife, Melanie, a retired nurse, have travel plans: a Mediterranean cruise, a stay in Paris, bicycling around Portugal. “My wife knows I’ll continue working. I just won’t have a job.”
He took over the top spot at Housing Works in 2013 from his predecessor, Cyndy Cook, although his connection with the housing authority stretches 20 years beyond that. Kemper started making deals with Housing Works in 1993, when it was still known as the Central Oregon Regional Housing Authority. As KemperCo., a development partner and consultant, he worked with Housing Works to develop Ariel Glen Apartments and Putnam Pointe and Eastlake Village, all in Bend.
During his tenure as executive director, the housing authority created more than 400 units of affordable housing for lower- and moderate-income families from Sisters to La Pine to Prineville and Madras. But demand for affordable housing has far from slackened, and Kemper’s replacement has a full plate waiting.
“When I actually took over, there were about 560 units. By the end of this year, we expect to have over 1,000,” Kemper said. “Statistically, we did make a dent.”
Housing Works today has 881 units in service, most of them rentals in multifamily apartment projects, with another 167 coming online soon, Michael Hinton, the Housing Works board chairman, said Friday. Another 17 units are single-family homes.
Kemper brought a background in development and tax law to Housing Works. A former in-house financial services counsel for PacifiCorp, he co-founded ScanlanKemperBard, a commercial-real-estate development company for “high-net-worth individuals,” in Portland in 1993. Kemper was adept at investing in affordable housing tax credits before taking over Housing Works. He attributed to working with Cook his commitment to creating homes for individuals and families on the other end of the income spectrum.
“She literally got me to drink the Kool-Aid, to buy into the mission,” he said.
Kemper described himself as outspoken, not a trait that lends itself well to working with a board of directors, many from social services. Cook taught him to rein it in, he said.
Hinton, lending director for NeighborImpact, a nonprofit with a focus on helping people of moderate incomes finance a home purchase, has been on the Housing Works board since 1999 and its chairman the past two years. He said Kemper exceeded the expectations set by the board. Kemper could have stayed in the private sector as a high-powered developer with a high-powered clientele, Hinton said.
“He really proved himself, not only as a hard-nosed businessman but also someone with a passion for the community,” Hinton said. “He’s using his expertise and know-how not just to create housing but to embrace the mission of Housing Works.”
Lynne McConnell, formerly of NeighborImpact and now the city of Bend affordable housing manager, said Kemper’s background allowed him to take advantage of sophisticated investment tools, like 4 percent tax credits, to finance public housing projects in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties. He also has a knack for taking an otherwise nondescript piece of dirt and turning it into a successful housing project.
“He had the same constraints — limited funding, a limited land supply and a variety of different challenges — but he’s made the existing tools work better than anyone else in the region,” McConnell said.
Hinton said a nationwide search is on for Kemper’s replacement, who will face a new set of challenges in a changing landscape and continued demand for affordable housing. Kemper leaves behind a cohesive organization, “that functions at a high level,” Hinton said.
“There’s so much on the table that needs to be pursued,” he said. “That team around him made it fun.”
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