Friday, July 12

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Samora moves from local housing to state-level housing

By Tricia Toney.

Although he remains committed to the completion of two large-scale affordable housing projects in Saguache County, Evan Samora is moving on and up.

Director of the Saguache County Housing Authority since 2011, Samora has accepted a new job with the state of Colorado as housing development specialist for the Southwest Region. As such, he will work with officials in Saguache County, Chaffee County and Hinsdale County who are seeking funding for affordable housing projects from the State of Colorado.

Samora started as a maintenance man for the county in 2007, not long after graduating from high school. He kept public buildings clean and did yard work and basic repairs. In 2009 he applied for a step up in the Housing Authority Department and subsequently began managing the 28 affordable housing units owned by the county. 

As an assistant to the Housing Director, Samora learned about Section 8 qualifications, leases and compliance requirements. He also coordinated and assisted the maintenance staff with upkeep, improvements and resident turnover. 

In 2011, when the then-director of the Saguache County Housing Authority moved on, Samora felt ready to take a giant leap in responsibilities. The commissioners at the time agreed, and hired him as department head. He was 23 years old. 

Looking at it through a certain lens, one might describe Samora’s career as a classic example of the American success story: “Local boy makes good.”  Not exactly “rags to riches,” but definitely “hard work pays off.”

But Samora does not want people to see his career trajectory as an example of the “bootstrap mythology,” as he terms it. “Millions of people work really hard and never achieve financial success,” he said. 

While he does acknowledge the role of hard work, Samora credits his recent opportunity in part to being in the right place at the right time. A colleague recognized his work ethic and experience and recommended he apply for the job with the state. 

Samora’s expertise, and recognition, have not come easy.  His first year as director was “very rough,” he recalled. “The learning curve was brutal.” He got a terrible score on a file audit from the administrators at the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA). He didn’t earn raves from the commissioners at first, either.

It was demoralizing, but Samora didn’t quit. He accepted the challenge to improve his management skills. 

Since that rocky start, Samora has learned about the complexities of government funding and project management. He has overseen grant writing for adding solar panels to the Blue Water Haciendas Apartments. He has managed maintenance staff and interviewed applicants for affordable housing units. He has also spearheaded funding efforts and construction planning for both the Rangeview Apartment Complex in Saguache and affordable single-family units in Casita Park. 

Samora has also learned patience. “The more people and the more agencies involved in a process, the longer it takes,” he said. Multimillion dollar government-funded housing projects involve many people and many agencies. 

Coordinating all of these efforts requires master-level project management skills. This year, Samora said, he has worked an average of 51 hours a week to keep his department on track. For the time being, until the county fills his position and a new director is up to speed, he will continue with some of his previous duties as a part-time contractor.  

Samora believes in the value of opportunities, and consciously tries to notice when they come along. He says his upcoming vacation in France is partly the result of a motivational speaker at a recent housing conference. 

The speaker picked Samora out of a large group to share a “bucket-list” item. After a few minutes of goal-setting, Samora had publicly committed to following his dream of visiting the Normandy beaches in France where World War II battles were waged. He’s calling it a “bike-packing” trip, as he’s bringing his bike and planning on pedaling to many of his destinations.

Coworkers are urging him to leave the county cell phone behind while he tours foreign shores, but so far Samora isn’t sure. He knows his absence will leave a vacuum in leadership at the Housing Authority, and he’s committed to seeing the projects under his care succeed.

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