In our last two posts, I shared a little about two roles that are front and center in carrying out our mission: our Community Connections Team and our Resident Liaisons. In this post, I would like to share with you a conversation I had with the leader of our Maintenance team, Marcus Stringfellow. In a typical year, this team brings our mission directly into the homes of our residents. Who they are and how they act are direct reflections of our agency’s goals and values. But this was no ordinary year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, our maintenance team were part of our community’s “essential workers”. I am very proud of the courage, creativity and patience this team demonstrated over these past six months and I’m glad I have an opportunity to give you a little insight into their world through this interview with Marcus.
About our maintenance team leader, Marcus Stringfellow.
Prior to sitting down with Marcus, there were some things I knew about him. I knew that Marcus was ex-Navy. The respect he shows his fellow employees, the integrity with which he carries out his work, and the standards to which he holds himself are in many ways connected to the time he served our country. What I did not know was that he grew up in Texas. Through his time in the Navy, he then had the opportunity to live in and experience cultures all over the world. I think this global experience has really helped Marcus be empathetic to the residents of Bremerton Housing Authority (BHA). We know that Kitsap County has a diverse population, with residents coming from all over the country and the world. The demographic makeup of our BHA residents reflect that diversity and we are lucky to have Marcus lead a team which has perhaps the most direct contact with residents as any at our agency. But there is a whole lot to Marcus that I did not know. I did not know that he is an avid fisherman, and it does not matter where - rivers, ocean, lakes. I did not know he had a love for pottery. And I also did not know that he loves outdoor plants and gardening.
If you have been around Marcus, you will recognize that he always has a smile on his face, which lifts anyone who is in his company. This ability to show and instill hope has been on full display during this trying time of the pandemic. We had a chance to talk about his experience during the pandemic and about a number of things.
About the maintenance team.
My interview with Marcus:
I asked Marcus, how would a resident get their concern on his team’s radar?
“Our residents generally have a good idea how the process works, but I think this article might serve as a helpful reminder. The primary way of getting a concern on our team’s radar is to take the concern directly to the property manager. Usually that means filling out a work order form (click here to access the form) and leaving it at the property manager’s office. For our units at Casa del Sol, Winfield, Tara Heights, Shadow Creek and Wright Court, where we do not have an onsite office, our residents can leave their work orders at the next nearest office. A list of our offices and an interactive map is below.
Summit at Bay Vista (4650 Bay Vista Blvd, Bremerton, WA 98312)
The Firs (183 Russell Rd, Bremerton, WA 98312)
Charter House (1307 Wheaton Way, Bremerton, WA 98310)
Tamarack Apartments (3511 Almira Dr, Bremerton, WA 98310)
Bremerton Housing Administrative Office (600 Park Ave, Bremerton, WA 98337)
If it is easier for a resident, they may also contact their property manager directly:
To respect all our residents, we ask that they all follow the same process of working through our property managers to get on our schedule rather than contacting our maintenance team directly. It is important to us that we treat our residents fairly and this gives us assurance we are handling requests consistently. Our Housing Assistant enters in the work orders according to time/date/priority and from there they are scheduled out to a maintenance tech for completion.”
What if the maintenance team is already in a resident’s unit and the resident discovers a new concern?
“This scenario certainly does happen. Our governing principle in how we approach this is to respect all the other residents who are already on our schedule that day. With this in mind, it would be appropriate for a resident to share that concern directly with the maintenance technician while they are in the unit. If the “fix” is something that we have the tools and skills to do AND if it would take less than 15 minutes, we are authorized to work on it in the moment and we will document via a work order after the fact that we did the work. For anything requiring longer than 15 minutes, we are open to taking a work order from the resident in the moment and handing that to their property manager. Again, the goal is to respect the concerns of their fellow residents who were already scheduled for that day.”
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how you interact with residents while trying to help them?
“Kitsap County is still in Phase II. It might come as a surprise to many, but at this time the Governor’s mandate only allows our maintenance team to work on emergency work orders. An emergency work order is a situation that would do damage to the resident themself or to the property. Some examples might be if an appliance does not work (e.g., they can’t provide food for their home) or a flood in their unit (which would damage the property and put the resident at risk). By contrast, concerns like a clothesline coming off its hinge would certainly be an inconvenience, but may not rise to jeopardizing the safety of the resident or the property. When the Governor allows Kitsap County to enter Phase III, that is when our maintenance team can start working on the backlog of concerns that fit the latter description. Our property managers have a list of those items and are working on plan to get those requests completed.
For those emergency work order situations where our maintenance team does enter a unit, we are following the Governor and CDC’s safety guidelines. In fact, we go beyond by keeping a 10-foot distance or more from our residents. We always wear masks and really appreciate it when the residents wear their masks. As you can imagine, it is awkward to have to remind a resident to put their mask on, especially in their own home. That said, our experience has been that our residents go out of their way to respect both the distance and the mask wearing and, for that, we’re very appreciative.”
How does your team handle entering a resident’s unit?
“Our team follows the same protocol we did even before the pandemic. The work order submitted by the resident gives them the opportunity to tell our team whether or not they will allow us to enter the unit when they are not there. If they prefer to let the technician in themselves, our maintenance team member will knock on the door within the time window for the appointment. As you can imagine, sometimes a resident is not available at that time. In that case, we’ll leave a written message and request that the resident call the property manager to let them know when they will next be available.”
What was it like for your team when the COVID-19 pandemic first appeared?
“To be honest, we were really afraid at first. It was a learning moment. Our team had to come up to speed very quickly on what exactly we were dealing with from a standpoint of the virus itself. How did the disease really work? How could someone pass on or catch the virus? It was a difficult time because even the scientific community was trying to make sense of it all during the early days. In the first few months, there was a lot of nervousness, both within our maintenance team and with the residents. We pulled together as a team though and were diligent about sharing with each other what we had learned in terms of how best to keep our team safe and how best to keep from putting residents at risk.
Getting supplies, such as paper towels, toilette paper and sanitizing products, was a real challenge in the early days. Shipments to our suppliers were slow. In our line of work, we depend on access to these supplies, so it really put a strain on our productivity.”
I want to thank Marcus for sharing some of his thoughts with me. I also want to thank his manager Sarah Van Cleve, his team, and our residents for allowing me to take some of his time away from the important work he does keeping our properties looking and functioning well. Much appreciated!
Click here for BHA Vision, Mission and Statement of Values.