Two candidates interview Monday to be Cook County’s first HRA director
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Two candidates interview Monday to be Cook County’s first HRA director

Two candidates interviewed March 14 to be the first executive director of the recently formed Cook County Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

The two candidates who interviewed for the position are Haley Wotzka and Jason Hale.

The HRA Board will make a decision in the “near future” between the two candidates following Monday’s interviews, according to HRA Board Chair Mary Somnis.

Wotzka currently works in marketing and outreach at Ground Solutions Network in the Twin Cities. She told the HRA Board during her interview Monday that she has desired to live in Cook County for many years and is interested in helping the community solve its housing crunch. According to her bio, Wotzka has worked in the nonprofit sector, primarily affordable housing, for over 13 years. Along with a Master of Public Policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota, she has experience with outreach, cross-sector collaboration, community engagement and strengthening networks in diverse communities.

Hale currently works for the HRA in Duluth as a housing developer for the city. His bio says he is a pragmatic developer with a demonstrated history of working in government administration and helping projects navigate the public sector. He told the local HRA board Monday that he owns property in Lake County in between Silver Bay and Finland near Highway 1, but would like to move closer to Grand Marais if employment opportunities provide such an opportunity.

The formation of the HRA was a process that largely unfolded in 2021, as the Cook County Board of Commissioners publicly expressed a desire to address the critical issue of housing, or lack thereof, facing the community. The board voted 5-0 to form the HRA during a meeting in August 2021.

The HRA will be an entity managed and organized similar to the format of the local Economic Development Authority (EDA). Similar to the EDA, the HRA will have levy authority, though its budget must be approved annually by the county board. The initial budget for the HRA in 2022 is $125,000.

Five local residents were selected last October to address the community’s housing needs following their appointment to the first ever HRA board in Cook County.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Cook County Administrator James Joerke about the HRA’s search for its first director and other topics relevant to local government in Cook County. Audio below.