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A group gathered to celebrate the creation of the Chaffee County Housing Authority, many of them had served for years on the Chaffee Housing Policy Advisory committee, and represented county and municipal government, interested citizens, and area nonprofits. Photo by Jan Wondra.

Chaffee County says goodbye this week to the person who pioneered the Chaffee Office of Housing, Director of Housing Becky Gray. Accolades for her contributions to the county piled up during this week’s Board of County Commissioner meeting. Gray departs later this week to return to be closer to her family in Kansas.

“Whatever recognition, we do fall short of what they should be,” said Deputy Director of Administration Beth Helmke, who pointed out that Gray arrived in Chaffee County in June of 2018 to build an office of housing just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. “She’s the first and thus the absolute best, and unquestionably the supreme housing director. She is loved here in Chaffee.”

Becky Gray, Chaffee County Director of Housing. Photo Courtesy Chaffee County Housing + Health Initiative

“Those COVID years were not a normal mode of being in county government but you persevered and I feel like we are all really sorry to see you go,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “But you have assembled quite an organization and whoever is next in your position will be well-equipped.”

Beginning as a one-person office, Gray shepherded the careful startup process. She acted as point person during the delicate stages of creating a quasi-judicial but independent Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) that includes not just Chaffee County, but the municipalities of Salida and Buena Vista.

Gray’s office has overseen the development of a rental assistance program, and worked with the Chaffee Department of Pubic Health to create and grow the “We are Chaffee” awareness program that has put real faces and stories to the problem of homelessness and workforce housing challenges in Chaffee county.

She forged strong bonds with the Chaffee Housing Trust, and her team has championed the financial underpinnings of Janes Place, a Salida-based workforce housing project where earthmoving equipment is beginning to rumble to life.

“We had to convince people that housing was a problem. To solve a very big problem it takes lots of collaboration and you have to start early and work very hard,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “Like Greg, I still remember the day we interviewed you. You had to make the trip over from Kansas, and we went to lunch, we all saw that all those years of struggle and delay — and friction in an inertia sense —  what those years were invested in was allowing you to make your way to us and allowing us to be ready. There was no second place, you were so far ahead of all the other candidates.”

Housing+ Health team. Left to Right: Becky Gray, Director, Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA); Mike Bischoff, Deputy Director, CHA; Lisa Martin, We Are Chaffee Coordinator, Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH); Heather Gorby, CHA Webmaster, Veer Creatives; Becky Longberg, Housing Navigator, CHA; Andrea Carlstrom, Director, CCPH; Mike Orrill, Special Projects, CCPH; Kelly Landau, Grant Evaluator, CHA. Photo courtesy CHA

“More than your professional role I’m going to miss you as a member of our community,” added Felt. “You are someone I was thrilled to hire, and I am sad to see you go. But I’m glad that you will have caught the sunrise on its way to us and know that you are sending good thoughts on the way to us.”

“When I first got on the planning commission in 2007 we were talking about a housing authority. That conversation bounced around for years and years,” said Commissioner P.T. Wood.

“When we were announcing the opening of the housing authority in the park over here, it was one of the things I was most proud of as the mayor of Salida,” he added. “You took that ball and ran with it more than I expected … you dove into areas I didn’t see coming…. some programs that are really meaningful for our community. It will be quite a legacy you leave.”

“You were fabulous to work with and brought in a whole new level of info and technology,” said Chaffee County Christy Barton, who choked up a bit as she added her good wishes.

“Becky it was a pleasure to work with you,” said County Attorney Daniel Tom. “We came in at the same time, we got this going together, there was a legal dance [to the legal structure of the CHA] but we were able to get a team together and we got it done.”

“I seem to have developed some allergy symptoms this morning. I want to thank you all for your leadership and giving me the opportunity to do this once-in-a-lifetime job to build a housing authority,” said Gray. “This isn’t about me, it’s about what this community has been able to do. This has been a collaborative process… it’s all of us that have created the Chaffee Housing Authority.”

Chaffee Housing Trust Wonder Woman Award presented to Becky Gray. Photo courtesy CHT

“Everywhere you turn, so much positivity is due to your contributions,” added Helmke. You put in so much of yourself…you will be greatly missed as you establish a new home in a new community in Kansas.”

“When I think about people who know how to work in a multi-level environment, who did it well and do it well, that is just you,” concluded Baker. “You don’t play ‘I’ve got a secret’, you were always ready to collaborate and I deeply appreciate that! You are a hard act to follow, you leave big shoes to fill, and will be greatly missed.”

The Chaffee Housing Authority meets this afternoon, March 16, and plans are underway to name an interim Office of Housing Director while the county completes a search for Gray’s replacement.

Editor’s Note: Ark Valley Voice offers our own thanks and commendation to Gray, who has been a ready source of information regarding the county’s housing crisis, a collaborative communicator, and as Baker pointed out — she has always told it like it is.