Keith Gregory was perfectly content as the Aurora Housing Authority Director in Aurora, Illinois.
Then he heard from the Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority (THRHA).
“I can’t say that I was looking, necessarily, but sometimes you get invited to discuss opportunities that are unbelievable,” Gregory said.
He toured Juneau in April and in early May was named THRHA’s new President and CEO. A week ago today, he began his new job, settling into a drastically new position in a drastically different place. After growing up in Michigan City, Indiana, Gregory went from Pittsburgh to Punta Gorda, Florida to Atlanta to the Chicago area.
Gregory admitted that he’s still wrapping his mind around his new surroundings, from the landscape to the Native culture of THRHA to the wildlife. While his wife is looking to make friends and maybe write a book, Gregory’s 9-year-old son has different goals.
“My son’s like, ‘I wanna see bears,’” Gregory said. “I told him, ‘We’re city folk. I don’t know that we exactly understand how that works.’”
Coworkers have talked to him about bears and bear safety a bit, Gregory said, but he’s still a little nervous about them. There’s plenty more for him to be learning about as he transitions to a completely new life.
That learning process is what the first week of his job was for.
“The first week, you’re almost not an employee,” Gregory said. “You’re just kind of an observer. You’re here to see how things work, who handles what and how everybody interacts, and you really just want to become part of the team. As a president, I think that’s got to be the first goal, is becoming part of the team.”
THRHA hired Gregory after a four-month search, VP of Administration Joyce Niven said. Gregory replaces former President and CEO Ricardo Worl, and Niven declined to comment on Worl’s departure.
Gregory’s resume includes major development projects, including more than $100 million worth of development in Aurora over a three-year span. He hopes to have a major role in affordable housing in Juneau and Southeast, but knows that THRHA can do even more.
As he sat in his new office Friday morning — his desk still relatively clean — work continued on the new Housing First facility just outside his office window. Though he doesn’t have much experience with projects such as Housing First (a 32-unit development for chronic inebriates in need of housing), he’s excited to dive into new, ambitious projects such as that one.
He believes that part of the reason THRHA hired him is for his ambition when it comes to new projects. He’s already been looking into starting new developments or moving forward with existing projects. The best part of building new projects, Gregory said, is consulting with people and working closely with those who live in the developments.
“I’ve done public housing for most of my career,” Gregory said. “It’s not that you don’t get involved with the people that you work with or that you serve, but here I’ve noticed that the involvement level is different. We’re very involved with the travel organizations, we’re very involved with the residents.”
At the close of his first week, Gregory was developing an understanding of the layout of Juneau and the intricacies of building housing in town. Finding room for housing is a long-standing challenge in Juneau, and new developments can be tough to come by.
Though there might not be as much room to spread out and build as there is in Illinois, many aspects of the job remain the same. He finds himself returning to the same analogy time and time again, seeing himself more as a pizza delivery man than anything else.
People in need of housing order the pizza. They customize it and choose the style, and the housing authority delivers it as best as it can. Gregory hopes that THRHA continues to bring the pizza, and do it in a timely manner.
“That’s really kind of where I would love for this agency to be,” Gregory said, “is just known as an organization that delivers.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com.