December 29, 2013

Young Augusta professional honored by chamber

Amanda Bartlett, raised by a single mother in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Augusta, has been named the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce Young Professional.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Amanda Bartlett’s childhood was not so different from that of many students in Augusta Public Schools, where 60 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunches because of low family income.

click image to enlarge

YOUNG PRO: Amanda Bartlett, the new director of the Augusta Housing Authority and winner of the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional Award, at her Augusta office.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Now a member of the Augusta school board, Bartlett was raised by a single mother in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Augusta. They couldn’t afford a car, much less horizon-broadening vacations.

But a few institutions helped Bartlett rise above her beginning. In both her professional life and her civic engagement, she’s working to give a similar leg up to children and families like hers.

Bartlett, 34, is the winner of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce Young Professional Award. That award and others will be presented at the chamber’s annual banquet on Jan. 24 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Peter Thompson said Bartlett came to the award committee’s notice as a one-time vice president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance and current president of the Friends of Lithgow Library.

In her day job, though, Bartlett has built a career in housing services and became the new director of the Augusta Housing Authority in December.

“Her whole professional life has been an interesting challenge in seeing wrong and righting it,” Thompson said. “It’s very impressive what she’s done.”

Bartlett earned a degree in criminal justice from the University of Maine at Augusta with the goal of becoming a state trooper, but she couldn’t manage the job’s hours as a single mother.

Bartlett worked for a while in the Bureau of Identification within the Maine State Police but felt she had virtually no opportunities for advancement because she wasn’t a sworn officer, so she applied for a job at the Maine State Housing Authority.

She was working for MaineHousing in late 2011 when a newspaper investigation exposed unsafe conditions in Norway-area apartments and poor oversight of the program that provided federal Section 8 vouchers to many of the people living in the apartments.

Bartlett helped relocate tenants into suitable housing and wrote a corrective action plan. She says the case ignited a passion in her to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing.

“That was a real life-changing experience for me, to see people living in conditions that were just completely unlivable, and knowing that landlords knew that their tenants were living in those conditions and were able to sleep at night,” she said. “I can’t comprehend how somebody could do that. The biggest takeaway for me was that that kind of thing could happen anywhere and probably does happen everywhere.”

Bartlett had been working on the side to provide inspection, training and consulting services to housing providers, and after the corrective plan was in place, she left MaineHousing to expand her business, Bartlett Inspection Services.

In December she made another transition to become Augusta Housing Authority’s new director. The agency oversees the Section 8 program in Augusta and surrounding communities.

Augusta is facing a housing challenge now because the city has closed about 65 units because of safety code violations, and more have been lost in fires.

Bartlett said she wants to use a community approach in which the Augusta Housing Authority works closely with landlords, tenants, code enforcement and other social services so that everyone knows their rights and obligations and knows what steps to take if there’s a problem.

Outside work, Bartlett’s community involvement is very much driven by her experiences growing up in Augusta.

As someone who grew up downtown, she was excited to work with other community leaders and business owners to rethink what the area could offer and help bring more people there.

(Continued on page 2)

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