When Elizabeth Gutierrez learned that the job of executive director of the Fairfield Housing Authority was open earlier this year, she jumped at the opportunity to tackle a new challenge. Moving closer to home was an added bonus for the Ridgefield resident, who had been commuting over a hour each day to New York.

"When I interviewed with them it seemed like a great place. And it's a nice community," said Gutierrez, who replaces Marilyn McNee, who retired. "It provided a challenge, because it is somewhat of a small housing authority."

Gutierrez, started on job Aug. 1, said she sees herself as a "turn-around specialist," working with "problem" housing authorities and "organizing them all the way through until it is fixed." She did not see Fairfield necessarily in that light, but Gutierrez said believes it needs better organization.

"I want to increase the amount of housing -- you would be surprised at how many calls we get each day for housing we do not have available, from seniors and the disabled," she said.

The executive director is responsible for organizing and directing all operations of the Fairfield Housing Authority (FHA), as well as its program development and community relations. The FHA oversees safe, affordable housing for diverse populations of seniors and people with disabilities.

The FHA manages two properties for senior citizens and the disabled, the Pine Tree Lane and Trefoil Court communities. Pine Tree Lane includes 38 units (28 efficiencies, 10 one-bedroom units) and Trefoil Court has 30 (22 efficiencies and eight one-bedroom units). Residents must be at least 62 years old or be Social Security disabled. The average cost per unit is 30 percent of the person's income. The FHA also handles local Section 8 housing requests, but the executive director does not oversee those responsibilities.

After a region-wide search following McNee's retirement elicited a strong response, Gutierrez impressed the authority's Board of Commissioners and emerged as the top choice for the position, according to Vice Chairman Rita Waterman. She said the commission is "thrilled" with the choice. Gutierrez "was the best person for the job. She knows what the FHA needs and I truly believe that she will benefit residents and the community. Already in just a couple of weeks she has been a huge asset for the commission," Waterman said.

Gutierrez said her first month has been more hectic than expected.

"It has been a lot of organizing. I had to hit the ground running," said Gutierrez, who had to make the authority's annual report to the state within a month after joining the FHA. "It is faced paced because it is small. I am here a lot until 8:30 or 9 p.m."

But, she said, the staff and residents have been helpful, making her transition easier.

Gutierrez, who previously worked for 12 years with Danbury's Housing Authority and most recently for three years with four statewide housing programs in New York, said the small Fairfield staff is a big change from her prior experience. Where a whole department of people would have done a specific task at previous jobs, there is only one person doing it in Fairfield, she said.

But Gutierrez has been pleased with the job and is "absolutely" happy she decided to take it. There is a lot more work for her to do.

"I want there to be better customer service, to make [the housing authority] more inviting," she said.