Cynthia Howerton joined the Kansas Department of Housing in 1997 when it was still under the purview of the Kansas Department of Commerce. At that time, Howerton worked with less than 20 employees on the 12th floor of the Eisenhower building. She began her job as a temporary worker to help process applications for the First Time Homebuyer (FTHB) program. But her job has been far from temporary; she’s been helping Kansans purchase their first homes now for 26 years.
“We housed a lot of people,” said Howerton. “In the early days, we received FTHB funding on the first of September and the first of March, and funds would run out before the next round would start. By 8:00 a.m. on the first of the month, my fax machine would already be full; it was crazy! We did a lot of faxing, made a lot of phone calls. Everything was on paper.” Since then, the volume of First Time Homebuyer applications has fluctuated over the years with changes in economic conditions.
Governor Sebelius separated the state’s housing division from the Department of Commerce in 2003, catalyzing the formation Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC), an independent, nonprofit corporation. KHRC relocated to its current location on Kansas avenue in 2004. Howerton also started working with the Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program and eventually became the First Time Homebuyer program manager.
She’ll never forget helping Kansans in times of need or crisis. She pitched in with disaster relief in Southeast Kansas after the Greensburg tornado and assisted with the Kansas Eviction Protection Program (KEPP), which helped Kansans stay housed during the eviction crisis created by COVID. “What blew my mind was the Kansas Appliance Replacement Program (ARA),” she said. KHRC administered the program, which supplied households with free energy-efficient appliances—dishwashers, refrigerators, washers, and dryers—in the aftermath of the 2008 housing crisis and recession. “It was a whirlwind to keep up with,” says Howerton. “I would hang up the phone and pick it back up and another person would be on the line before it even rang. The program lasted months, but it felt like years.”
As she nears her retirement, Howerton recalls highlights of growth and change during her time at KHRC. “Going paperless was a huge change,” Howerton remembers. “Agencies that administer federal programs don’t change that much, but the technology has branched out so much—laptops, cell phones, software tools—things have really improved and they’re still constantly changing!” What’s kept Howerton at KHRC so long? She offers a glimpse: “If you work at a place like KHRC, you truly mean it. I think KHRC values employees; they expect good work but treat us well. That has never changed.”
What hasn’t changed for Howerton is the power of a genuine connection—whether it’s with a client over the phone, or among longtime colleagues. “I’m proud that I could help so many Kansans buy their first homes and cover their rent payments,” said Howerton. “I take pride in my customer service. People will say to me, ‘You called me back! That doesn’t happen this day and age.’ I try to go the extra mile and find them solutions or someone else who can help them, even if I can’t.” Howerton always enjoyed celebrating National Homeownership Month each June with new first-time homebuyers, especially the most recent event this year in Derby.
“I will miss the people the most,” said Howerton. A handful of colleagues have worked alongside her since nearly the beginning. “That’s what’s neat about being in a place so long; you truly get to follow their lives.” She remembers their children—sometimes running through the office in their youth—now grown up and getting married. She relishes memories of Friday afternoons off with her colleagues to enjoy staff at picnics at the lake and driving Go-Karts at the Sports Center. Some of her favorite memories at KHRC include the office Olympics and dressing up for Halloween.
Howerton is an avid reader and after retirement plans to keep her mind sharp by reading, playing games, and downsizing her apartment of 27 years. She’s looking forward to prioritizing her health and self-care by walking more, cooking healthy meals, and spending time with her brother and his family in Lawrence.
Cynthia Howerton will officially retire from her position at KHRC on July 28, 2023. We thank Cynthia from the bottom of our hearts for her many years of service and friendship at KHRC!