Amanda Olson, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, stands in the hall Wednesday at the Hodgkins School Apartments in Augusta. Olson is leaving that role in April to take on a job with a Portland-based developer working on statewide housing initiatives. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — When Amanda Olson started as executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, a decade ago, it was a housing authority without any housing to offer.

Unlike most other housing authorities, it had never developed or owned any housing. Since its inception in 1979, its sole purpose had been to administer the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, distributing housing vouchers to help people find housing but not actually providing any of that housing itself.

Under Olson’s leadership, the organization converted the former Hodgkins Middle School into 47 units of affordable housing for adults 55 and older and built the new Maple Street Apartments, which has 29 apartments targeted at working people on part of the former Statler Tissue Mill site.

And after 10 years at the helm, Olson is poised to leave next month to become the chief operating officer for Developers Collaborative, a statewide housing developer.

With those complexes both fully occupied — with over 100 people on waiting lists for each — and the demand for rental housing still great, the authority has more units planned in Maine’s capital. Proposed projects include Sturgeon Landing, offering 32 units of workforce housing on Park Street, where Olson anticipates construction will start in June; Malta Street Senior Housing, with 34 units for adults 55 and older, where construction is expected to start in early 2024; and a potential housing project currently in “pre-development,” of between 35 and 50 units on Union Street at the current site of the Augusta Police station, which is being replaced with a new station on Willow Street.

State Rep. William Bridgeo, D-Augusta, who was city manager when Olson was hired by the housing authority, watched with admiration as she expanded its mission to develop new housing in Augusta. Especially the project converting Hodgkins Middle School — which Bridgeo said the city may have ended up demolishing — into housing after the city leased the building to the housing authority for $1 a year, for 90 years.


“The renovation of the old Hodgkins junior high into senior housing is as good an example you’ll find anywhere in the state of creative financing and the reuse of an historic building and taking advantage of historic preservation tax credits and low-income housing tax credits and (tax increment financing) from the city, and other resources, to provide housing,” Bridgeo said.

During Amanda Olson’s tenure at the Augusta Housing Authority, the organization redeveloped the Hodgkins Middle School in Augusta into 47 units of affordable housing. The housing authority founded in 1979 had previously distributed housing vouchers but had not provided any housing itself. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

He described Olson — a mother who while working for the housing authority also served as chairperson of the Augusta Board of Education and ran a small business — as an inspiration for young women given her leadership and accomplishments in the community.

Olson, who has lived in Augusta for most of her life, said she grew up in poverty in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment in a tough neighborhood. That has fueled her work, “because I know every person deserves a safe, affordable place to call home that they can feel proud of, and I know what it’s like not having that,” she said. “Having a home is fundamental to the human condition, and providing someone with the keys to a new home that was once just a big idea is a feeling that is difficult to articulate.”

She said that made her job leading the Augusta Housing Authority her dream job.

The organization has also expanded the federal housing voucher program to offer more vouchers as well as specialized vouchers for people with disabilities and homeless veterans, created a new program helping older adults pay for home repairs and modifications to allow them to remain in their homes and added a landlord incentive program for landlords who take part in the voucher programs. Despite these efforts, the area, like most of the state, is still in the midst of a housing shortage crisis.

Developers Collaborative, where in her next job Olson will manage day-to-day operations and provide oversight for the business, is a Portland-based real estate development firm run by Kevin Bunker. Its projects have included affordable housing developments, other community-minded work and a new homeless services shelter with 208 beds that recently opened in Portland.


Olson said the role the company is playing in helping to address the need for housing in Maine is why she decided to leave the Augusta Housing Authority, a job she thought she’d keep until she dies. She said Bunker, who was a partner in the authority’s Hodgkins conversion project, approached her about coming to work for the firm, and after meeting to discuss it at length, she saw it as a fit.

“What I came away with after much reflection is that working for Developers Collaborative will provide me with an opportunity to use my experience and skills to help lead a team that has a profoundly bigger impact on housing at a critical time, with a reach into and well beyond the geographical limits of Augusta,” Olson said. “Really, the only reason I accepted the new role is because I feel it provides me with the opportunity to have a much bigger impact in addressing housing needs.”

Olson resigned as chairperson of the Augusta Board of Education, effective in February, because she felt she wouldn’t have enough time, with the new job and commuting to Portland, to meet the obligations of that role. That position is currently being filled on an interim basis by Martha Witham, and the Augusta City Council voted to fill the remainder of Olson’s term, which runs out at the end of this year, in a June 13 election.

State housing officials said Olson, whose current salary with the authority is $109,000 a year, has made a difference for those in need of housing in Augusta.

“Amanda has done a tremendous job in transforming Augusta Housing into what it is today,” said Daniel Brennan, director of MaineHousing. “We’re so grateful for her leadership and we’re sure she will be a success in her new job with Developers Collaborative. We look forward to continuing to work with Augusta Housing in the years to come in meeting the affordable housing needs in the Augusta area.”

Olson, whose last day is April 7, said the housing authority’s board is in the process of hiring an executive search firm to hire her replacement, who they hope to have in place by fall. Mike Hulsey, executive director of the South Portland Housing Authority, will serve as interim director, working part-time in that role, until a permanent successor is hired.

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