Steve Beam, who has been director of the Raleigh Housing Authority for 18 years, will retire in December, the authority announced Friday.
Beam is leaving because of health concerns and, primarily, the fact that a new law will reduce his retirement benefits starting next year, said Kyle Dilday, chairman of the authority’s board of commissioners.
Beam formally told the board Thursday of his plan to retire. The relatively short notice surprised Josephine McCullers, a longtime resident leader in the Heritage Park community.
“Oh my goodness! Mr. Beam is leaving?” she exclaimed Friday afternoon.
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The housing director has strong supporters and critics alike.
Articles in The News & Observer last year highlighted Beam’s use of comp time to justify more than 20 days out of the office in some years. The articles also noted Beam’s salary, which at a total compensation of up to $280,000 has been one of the highest in the nation for a housing director, and the board’s $3,000 holiday dinners at Second Empire Restaurant.
City Council members questioned the comp-time arrangement, which allowed Beam, who also is a magician, to take extra time off for every half-hour he worked beyond a 7.5-hour day. In response, the housing board eliminated that option earlier this year.
To Octavia Rainey, a frequent critic and Southeast Raleigh activist, it was another sign a change was needed.
“I personally felt that Steve Beam was not the right person,” she said Friday, arguing that he hadn’t done enough to build “human capital” in the communities he managed.
Beam’s supporters credit him for leading the agency out from under a pall. He took over in 1996, four years after the carbon-monoxide deaths of two residents, which were blamed on the authority.
In all, Beam saw the authority add 2,100 units, bringing its total to about 5,800.
“Everything went perfect, as far as I’m concerned,” said McCullers, who has lived for 26 years in Heritage Park. “When we needed him, he was there. He didn’t beat around the bush.”
In announcing the retirement, Dilday, the chairman, praised Beam for overseeing the expansion of the authority’s “umbrella,” and the soon-to-be completed $50 million redevelopment of Walnut Terrace, among other points.
“Steve Beam has served with integrity and distinction, having consistently exceeded the expectations of the (housing authority’s board of commissioners) and the requirements of the job,” Dilday said in a written statement.
“The decision by Steve to retire at this time was entirely his own.”
Beam came to the decision because changes in state law and the Local Government Employees’ Retirement System will “significantly diminish his retirement benefits over time,” Dilday wrote.
Beam only realized about two weeks ago that the new legislation would hurt his finances, Dilday said in an interview. He must retire by Jan. 1 to keep his benefits at their current levels, Dilday said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what change in the retirement system had encouraged Beam’s retirement.
The authority cited a recent change in the law, which likely is House Bill 1195, enacted this summer.
Dilday couldn’t be reached Friday evening for further comment; Beam did not respond to requests for comment.
Health also was a factor, according to Dilday. Beam survived a heart attack about a month ago, returning to work two days after his release from the hospital, Dilday said.
Beam was the authority’s finance director before he was its director.
For as long as he’s been both, he also has been a magician. He sometimes made time for magic-related conferences by working past the standard 7.5-hour workday, saving up 60 or 90 minutes of “comp time” on some days, then combining that time to take full days off. Those days came atop six weeks of standard vacation, plus sick days.
Beam defended the practice, saying that he often worked and conducted business calls during his vacation and comp-time days.
Nonetheless, the housing board curbed his use of comp time, changing his contract in January to say that he could only take compensatory days in exchange for weekend travel days. The board also declined to give him a raise, for the first time ever.
In announcing the retirement, Dilday cited an audit presented to the board this September. The auditor, Dale Rector, claimed that RHA is “financially the strongest public housing authority he has ever seen,” Dilday wrote.
Hours after the announcement, U.S. Rep. David Price praised Beam’s leadership in a written release.
The authority’s interim leader will be Wayne Felton, currently its maintenance director. Dilday promises a “national search,” but the board hasn’t worked out a schedule or priorities yet.
Danny Coleman, chairman of Southeast Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Council, said the selection will be crucially important. He thinks Beam has been “successful,” but he worries that the authority has shifted focus from those with the greatest need.
“You have to wonder, well, who’s going to be housing them, if the housing authority is not doing it?” he said.
Beam will end his tenure on Dec. 1.