Bozeman City Hall

A look at Bozeman City Hall on Rouse Avenue.

City of Bozeman officials fired the town’s affordable housing manager this week, roughly seven months after he started the job.

Loren Olsen began as the city’s affordable housing manager in April. His job has been to help lead the city’s housing efforts.

In an interview Friday, Olsen said he was told at the end of the workday Wednesday he no longer had a job with the city.

“I was totally surprised and shocked,” Olsen said. “I’m in full support for all the people I met who were struggling. I was excited and eager to help them in every way possible.”

Olsen said he wasn’t told why he had to leave the job and said because he was still in his probationary period, the city didn’t have to offer a reason.

“It’s very sad for me. Relieving the affordable housing stress in Bozeman is extremely important. I was looking forward to assisting in that,” he said. “Everyone I worked with at the city of Bozeman were professional. I’d go back to work on Monday for the city if they’d take me.”

City Manager Andrea Surratt said she couldn’t say why Olsen was fired, citing employee privacy rights.

“We feel like the housing program has made great progress and we appreciate the work that was done,” said Surratt, adding Olsen contributed to that work.

The dismissal comes days before Bozeman city commissioners will review the city’s draft affordable housing action plan — a task Olsen helped lead. Work on that plan began the same month Olsen started.

Surratt said she doesn’t think the city’s lack of a housing manager will slow that effort.

Bozeman leaders created the affordable housing position in 2017. It’s part of the city’s effort to respond to a widening gap between what people make and the increasing cost to live in Bozeman.

So far, no one has been in the job for a full year.

In a news release in September 2018, the city announced its first manager, Matt Madsen, was leaving. Neither Madsen or the city said why, other than he was pursuing another career.

Madsen stayed in the job part-time as the city looked for his replacement.

Before joining the city, Olsen worked as a mortgage broker with Flagstar Bank. In 2004, voters elected Olsen to the Local Government Study Commission, which he chaired. City staff said at the time they hired Olsen, the Bozeman native had been active in groups around town which would help in the role.

The city posted a listing for the affordable housing manager position the same day Olsen was fired. The pay is listed between $58,858 and $69,245 a year.

The city didn’t announce Olsen was fired. By Friday, Olsen’s automatic email response had been updated to say “the individual you have emailed is no longer employed by the city.”

Kevin Thane, a longtime member of the city’s Community Affordable Housing Advisory Board, said that automatic response is how he learned Olsen was out of the job.

Thane said Olsen had been at the board’s regular meeting Wednesday and there wasn’t any indication that was his last day.

“As far as I knew everything was moving along, so I’m surprised,” Thane said. “To the best of my knowledge things were fine.”

Commissioner Terry Cunningham sits on the city’s affordable housing board and has been part of the group Olsen helped lead to weigh in on the city’s draft housing action plan.

Cunningham said he learned about Olsen’s dismissal Thursday. He said the commission doesn’t decide who is hired or fired at city hall.

“The commission has only one employee and that’s the city manager,” Cunningham said. “So we do not get involved in personnel matters related to city staff.”

Cunningham said the city needs to continue to prioritize affordable housing through the search for Olsen’s replacement. He said he was grateful for the time the group has put into the action plan and is proud of what has been done so far.

Cunningham said he couldn’t comment on how Olsen performed in helping guide that work.

In a letter published in the Chronicle on June 28, Cunningham said Bozeman was headed in the right direction to find ways to offer some relief for the city’s housing issues.

“Admittedly, previous instability in the city’s affordable housing manager position — and the need to conduct a housing needs assessment to develop quantifiable housing targets — have added time to the process,” Cunningham wrote.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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