Helping those in need

Keith Johnathan works to solve the housing crisis in Eau Claire

More stories from Luke Alex


Photo by Leader-Telegram

Keith Johnathan says 46 percent of Eau Claire residents are living below the poverty line.

The lack of affordable housing in Eau Claire is a serious problem, said Keith Johnathan, the executive director of The Housing Authority.

“Forty-six percent of the population of Eau Claire falls below the poverty line,” Johnathan said. “That’s about 29,900 people without basic necessities.”

Johnathan said he does his best at providing homes for these 46 percent with the limited resources that are provided to The Housing Authority.

“I’m a firm believer that everyone should be able to get a home anywhere they want,” Johnathan said, “regardless of skin color, race or creed. And I apply that principle to my entire life.”

The Housing Authority is a private agency governed by its own autonomous board. They are not owned by the city or government, but they receive their funding from Housing and Urban Development, a federal agency, Johnathan said.  

The Housing Authority runs many different housing programs, but their main focus is the Public Housing Program and Multi-Family program, Johnathan said. The goal of these programs is to provide free or affordable housing to people living in poverty who can’t afford the cost of living.

With the funding allotted to the Housing Authority, they have the capacity for only 346 housing units, Johnathan said.

“You tell me: Do you think there’s a need for more?” Johnathan said.

Not only does Johnathan help to provide affordable housing in Eau Claire, but he is also very active and influential in the community, especially among African-Americans, said Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, a history and gender studies professor at the UW-Eau Claire.

“He’s come over to help at the university with the Black Men’s Summit and with several of our Black History Month programs,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “He has even sung with the Martin Luther King program.”

Ducksworth-Lawton said she believes Johnathan is a role model for African-American youth because of his extensive experience and education.

“He’s one of the few black men in town with a masters of business administration,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “And it’s in accounting, too. That’s not an easy task.”

Johnathan, who was born and raised in Long Island, New York, said he didn’t exactly picture himself as the director of an agency when he was going through college.

“I had a passion for accounting,” he said. “I liked accounting because the numbers didn’t talk back.”

Johnathan worked as an accountant for a number of corporations and companies in Long Island before discovering the job opening in Eau Claire at the Housing Authority, he said.

Johnathan said he had prior experience working for a community development agency and was ready for a change, so he applied for the job and was given the position.

“I had some issues in my personal life and I was ready for a change,” Johnathan said. “I had the opportunity to make a change or stay where I was, in a unhappy situation.”

Currently Johnathan said he is in a happier place professionally and in his personal life living in Eau Claire. He owns a hobby farm outside of Eau Claire where he raises cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock. He is involved in many activities around Eau Claire such as the Eau Claire Male Chorus and the Jail-Bailers, which is a musical comedy group that performs at different venues around the area.

“I’ve been involved in so many things in Eau Claire that have helped me grow creatively and have given me a great deal of joy,” he said.

Johnathan has faced many challenges in his life, but through it all, he continues to move forward, he said.

“The way I live my life, I just charge straight ahead and if you accept me, you accept me, If you don’t, you don’t,” Johnathan said. “But I’m not gonna let that cause me to not do what I want to do.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected].