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Amid Spokane’s housing crisis, Woodward appoints new director of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services

John E. Hall III is the new director of Spokane’s Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services division.  (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)
John E. Hall III is the new director of Spokane’s Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services division. (Greg Mason / The Spokesman-Review)

The city of Spokane has hired a new full-time leader for the Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services division, a city department that continues to rebuild after a flurry of staff resignations last year.

John E. Hall III has been appointed by Mayor Nadine Woodward with the Spokane City Council’s approval to oversee the city’s housing, homelessness and community development initiatives. The division encompasses the Department of Community, Housing and Human Services; MySpokane/311 and the Office of Neighborhood Services.

Hall will take the reins amid a housing emergency in Spokane, as declared by Woodward last summer due to the city’s rising homeless population and record-high housing prices .

Woodward said Hall’s immediate priorities will include navigating the development of the new East Trent Avenue homeless shelter and the city’s efforts to relocate the hundreds living in the Camp Hope homeless encampment on state Department of Transportation land along East Second Avenue.

“What I’m excited about John taking over the division … is his level of experience with housing in all different cities,” Woodward said. “He’s going to be hitting the ground running.”

Hall, a native of Wichita Falls, Texas, most recently served as executive director of the Indianapolis Housing Agency.

The 51-year-old has two decades of related experience, having served as the Wichita (Kan.) Housing Authority’s executive director, the city of Wichita’s Housing and Community Services Department director, a field director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the District of Columbia’s director of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Hall, who has a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University, said he was impressed by the “level of commitment” and the “collective need to move the needle” he observed from Woodward and the City Council.

“Being a housing practitioner for over 20 years now, it is rare that local units of government have housing as a priority,” he said. “Most cities across the country are having a housing crisis I think, in part, due to the lack of sustained commitment to housing for decades.”

‘Rebuilding’ the division

Hall will start July 11 with an annual salary of $142,923.60, said city spokesperson Brian Coddington.

His predecessor, Cupid Alexander, resigned a year ago. Though his resignation was official July 31, Alexander was forced by City Administrator Johnnie Perkins to leave more than a month earlier.

Alexander then alleged Perkins racially discriminated against him because he is Black. A city-hired investigator found no evidence of racial discrimination against Alexander.

Alexander’s departure expanded a void in the Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services division, as Tija Danzig – a senior department manager – left for a new job that March, while former Community, Housing and Human Services Director Timothy Sigler stepped down some weeks before Alexander. Three more department employees also stepped down in the weeks following Alexander’s resignation.

Eric Finch, the city’s chief innovation and technology officer, has served in the interim as director of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services. Meanwhile, the city in January hired Jennifer Cerecedes to serve as the director of Community, Housing and Human Services.

Woodward said she believes Hall and Cerecedes “are going to make a great team.”

“This is a great opportunity because we’re rebuilding that division,” Woodward said, later adding, “We’re going to be able to concentrate more on housing and what we can do at the city level because of his expertise. We do have a housing specialist in CHHS, but we do need more recommendations.”

Applications for the division director’s job were open from Jan. 19 to Feb. 20. Seventeen applied; two of the four selected for virtual interviews withdrew, Coddington said.

The candidates met with a panel of city officials as well as an external panel of community constituents, Woodward said, with invites sent for one representative each from groups including the Spokane Housing Authority, the CHHS Board, the Spokane Homeless Coalition and the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

The mayor said Hall also had an opportunity for one-on-one meetings with members of the City Council. The confirmation of Hall’s appointment sailed through the council Monday.

“Just based on his background and experience, I think he’ll be a great addition. Happy to have him,” said Councilmember Michael Cathcart.

Councilmember Betsy Wilkerson echoed that sentiment, saying, “His depth of knowledge was very impressive.”

Moving the needle forward

Hall recalls growing up in an impoverished community, saying he was “the little kid that had to run errands for all of the neighbors” who struggled with unmet needs, particularly those related to housing or social services.

Hall served for three years as executive director of the Indianapolis Housing Agency in a political appointment. Brought in to guide the organization through a change management process, Hall decided not to pursue an extension, saying it was time to move on.

In September, Hall was picked by the Tacoma Housing Authority Board of Commissioners as the authority’s new executive director. The agency pivoted, however, selecting April Black – who was then interim executive director – following public and staff concerns with alleged statements Hall made during his interview for the job.

The Tacoma News Tribune reported Hall was accused of making transphobic comments, referred to housing authority clients as “criminals” and somehow demonstrated a lack of knowledge pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion.

While not all of the interviews were recorded, the News Tribune reported in October that a review of those available for viewing provided no evidence to support the claims. Videos of the interviews once posted on the housing authority’s website are now unavailable.

Hall and the Tacoma Housing Authority went through a mediation process in May, resulting in a $300,000 settlement to Hall paid through the authority’s insurance policy, according to a letter obtained by The Spokesman-Review. The housing authority board also issued a formal apology through a resolution for subjecting Hall to a “painful and undignified flurry of divisive remarks.”

A Tacoma Housing Authority spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hall has consistently denied the allegations, saying he felt the housing authority’s process was done “with ill wills toward any external candidate.”

“I look forward to putting this attempted character assassination behind me,” Hall said. “I’m proud of my track record as a leader in the affordable housing industry. I’ve been doing this for well over 20 years and I’ve had great successes as a leader on workplace diversity, racial and income equity, and I’ve always promoted inclusive communities for all.

“I look forward to doing the same in Spokane,” he continued, “There’s a lot of work to be done and I have the knowledge, skill and abilities to work with everyone to move the needle forward.”

Coddington said Hall voluntarily disclosed details of the situation and the housing authority board’s resolution of apology with the city during the interview process.

“For the board to make that kind of public statement and public apology, the city considered that to be something that adequately addressed the situation and really affirmed his version of events,” Coddington said.

Bestowed with another government appointment, Hall said he is more focused this time around on making a long-term home, with plans to buy a house in Spokane and establish roots.

“I want to do things outside of work that will have me part of the community. So not just work, which is what I’ve done most of my career,” he said. “I’m hopeful that this appointment to the city, although it’s with Mayor Woodward’s administration, that it is a long-term one in that I’ll be viewed as an asset to the community and I can finish out my career here.”

As someone who has “been on all sides of the housing transaction” between lived experience, serving as a housing director for various cities or through his HUD work in helping local governments leverage federal resources, Hall said he is excited to contribute and work with the city as a whole.

In addressing homelessness, Hall said public officials have to “work with people where they are” and adopt strategies based on their individual needs, with the end goal each day of reducing homelessness closer to zero.

“My strategy as a public administrator is to create the opportunity for victory,” Hall said. “No individual is the same or has the exact same needs, so we have to create a multifaceted approach of options.”

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