In the community

Local housing director uses state ties to bring resources to Malheur County

ONTARIO – In 2012, Kristy Rodriguez realized it was time for a change.

She was living in public housing in Ontario while she commuted to Boise to work for DirectTV.

“I knew public housing was not my calling to live in for the rest of my life,” said Rodriguez.

Instead, she said she “needed to finally figure things out and move into a place I could call home.”

Rodriguez heard about a job opening at the Housing Authority of Malheur and Harney Counties. She applied and was hired as an office receptionist. Over the next years, she worked at the housing authority and at Fiesta Guadalajara restaurant in Ontario as she raised her two sons.

Fast forward 12 years, and Rodriguez, 39, is the director of the two-county housing agency.

She attributes her success to her family.

“My biggest push was my children. I never wanted them to see me fail,” she said.

Rodriguez was named director of the housing agency in 2019 after a year as interim director.

The nonprofit agency offers a variety of programs, from what is called Section 8 housing – using federal rent subsidies – to public housing funded through the federal government. The authority also oversees federally-funded farmworker housing in Nyssa and subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled, Rodriguez said.

Kristy Rodriguez, executive director of the Housing Authority of Malheur and Harney Counties, talks about the role her agency plays to help low-income residents find stable housing, Thursday, April 11. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Having once needed low-income housing herself, Rodriguez understands and believes in the mission.

Rodriguez reports to a seven-member board of directors from both counties, who meet quarterly.

Her experience – going from living in subsidized housing to managing a key housing program for two counties – reinforces her goal to help people, she said.

“I enjoy this work. I enjoy helping others. I enjoy inspiring others to succeed and move toward self-sufficiency,” said Rodriguez.

The need for low-income housing in Malheur County remains acute, she said.

Rodriguez, who grew up in Ontario, said finding low-income housing locally is her “biggest challenge.”

“I feel like we are consistently growing in population but we just don’t have enough housing in the area for everybody,” said Rodriguez.

One obstacle for the inventory of low-income housing is the shortage of contractors.

“We do not have a lot of developers in the area so a lot of times when we are discussing a new project, we have to outsource,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez sees one simple answer to the local low-income housing shortage.

“We just need to continue to find funding sources to build more housing and to make sure we are advocating for rural communities,” she said.

Rodriguez is no stranger to the role of advocacy. She is a member of two key state boards focused on housing.

She was appointed to the state Housing Stability Council in 2023. The council, which meets monthly, is a nine-member board that considers policy for creating and financing affordable housing in Oregon.

“For instance, Umatilla County just received funding for a project they are doing for homeless veterans. We got to listen to that funding and how it is allocated and what the project specifics are, and then we had to vote on either yes or no,” she said.

She said her Housing Stability Council stint has been interesting.

“The improvements they are trying to make to their diversity and inclusion work is something that sticks out for me,” she said.

She also serves as the vice president of the Housing Authorities of Oregon and is the treasurer for Housing Oregon, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Rodriguez said her state board positions put her in the right place to promote the needs of Malheur and Harney counties.

“I advocate for development funds,” she said.

Rodriguez can point to successes.

Earlier this year, the former Mills Manor Apartment on Ontario’s North Oregon Street opened, thanks to a $4 million grant the housing authority received.

The project consists of 17 two-bedroom, one-bathroom units.

The housing authority also played a key role on the groundwork – including state and federal funding – to refurbish the Nyssa Court Apartments for low income residents.

Rodriguez said her job satisfaction is based on the ability to help people.

“I love being out there and the challenge every day. There is not a single day I go to work and don’t encounter something different,” said Rodriguez.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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