PITTSFIELD >> A longtime Pittsfield Housing Authority employee who began as a bookkeeper in 1989 is the authority's new executive director.
Sharon LeBarnes began in the position this month, chosen by the PHA commissioners to succeed Charles L. Smith Jr., who recently retired. She is the first woman to serve as director.
LeBarnes is more than familiar with authority operations. That includes managing 24 buildings — ranging from single-family and duplex dwellings or group homes to large multi-unit facilities, like Columbia Arms and Dower Square or Wilson Park — as well as overseeing annual operating and capital budgets involving both state and federal funding sources and myriad and often changing regulatory requirements.
For the past five years, LeBarnes has served as deputy director under Smith, assisting in management of the PHA and filling in when the director was on vacation. She earlier served for 10 years as director of program administration and finance; five years as finance director; six years as accounts manager, and five years at the start of her career as a bookkeeper.
"I like it," LeBarnes said during a recent interview. "At first it is a job, but you just start growing and you just want to learn more and more."
She said that urge to keep learning about all aspects of public housing remains with her today — enhanced in recent years through online training options the PHA takes advantage of through its insurance service.
LeBarnes said she now is working her way into the role of executive director and intends to visit the PHA facilities and meet with tenants. She wants to "let them know who I am," and "hear what their issues are and their questions and concerns — and help if I can."
She added that she intends to give people an honest assessment of what is possible and what isn't. "That is about what I am, a straightforward person," LeBarnes said. "I will tell it like it is."
"We are very pleased," said PHA Commission Chairwoman Lucille Reilly.
She said there were 12 applicants for the post, and LeBarnes was unanimously chosen by the board from among four finalists who were interviewed.
"She was the top choice," Reilly said. "For what she has done and accomplished and for her knowledge."
Commission member Gerald S. Doyle Jr. and Reilly noted LeBarnes' experience in different positions at the PHA, especially concerning budgeting and finances, and said they like her plan to do more outreach to PHA tenants and the larger community.
"She is very personable," Doyle said. "I think she will be great."
LeBarnes said the PHA oversees 744 housing units involved in state-funded programs and 164 units in federally funded programs, along with 580 subsidized housing vouchers for qualified renters elsewhere in the city.
All of the major housing complexes were constructed before 1972, she said, which means renovation and facility upgrade work is being done on an annual basis. A current five-year state grant, totaling about $1 million a year, along with annual federal allocations (totaling $191,000 this year), are funding capital projects from roof or chimney work, furnace upgrades, to renovation work in kitchens or bathrooms.
LeBarnes said she expects to learn soon what the newest state and federal guidelines for housing programs will be for the next fiscal year so she can begin planning for the next PHA budget. She has worked on preparing the spending plans in the past but now will also present budgets to the commissioners for approval.
Among her other goals as executive director, she said, are to spur more events and activities at the Community Centers that were established in 2013 at Dower Square and Wilson Park. The centers are designed to make a range of city services or information available to the residents of those housing complexes and to the community. They also are available for use by the city police officers to meet and interact with citizens.
"I want to get more going there for the community and for the kids," LeBarnes said."
She said another goal is encourage more social events and interaction at the elderly housing complexes.
Smith retired in late July after working for 40 years with the PHA.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.