COLUMBIA — Federal stimulus money might provide up to $3.6 million for improvements to Columbia public housing by the end of 2011.
The Columbia Housing Authority applied for a competitive grant last week through the Department of Housing and Urban Development that, if received, will spark construction for two large projects. One project would install energy-efficient renovations at Paquin Tower, while the other addresses the needs of the elderly or persons with disabilities at Oak Towers.
Each grant could provide nearly $1.8 million.
The energy-efficient upgrades outlined in the application for Paquin Tower would save nearly 42 percent of the building’s existing energy and water consumption.
Housing Authority Director Phil Steinhaus said in an e-mail that residents would benefit from an improved heating system with the replacement of boilers, pipes and radiators.
"The current radiators do not allow residents to control the heat in their rooms,” he said in the e-mail.
Other suggested improvements include plumbing, lighting, insulation and upgrades to the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.
In another part of town, a building built in 1966 for the elderly is quickly falling behind disability standards.
None of Oak Towers’ 147 apartments meet Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, which regulate accessible design requirements for new construction and alterations to federally funded buildings.
This second project requests funds to renovate the 21 apartments on the second floor of Oak Towers and other common areas, like the dining room, elevators and garden, to bring them up to accessibility standards.
The proposed renovations would make 14 percent of the housing units fully accessible to persons with disabilities.
“The ADA accessibility issues at Oak Towers have been a concern for over 10 years," Steinhaus said in the e-mail. "We keep pushing the project back due to a lack of capital funding to meet all of our needs.”
Oak Towers resident Mary Bittle lives on the second floor and uses a power chair when she goes to the store or leaves the building for an excursion down the road.
Bittle, 57, lives with her long-term boyfriend and caregiver Roy Farrell, 52, and both know the awkwardness of maneuvering the power chair through their apartment’s narrow corridors and trying to turn it around in a confined space.
“Every time I come in, I break the telephone cord,” Bittle said, waving her hand toward the cord outlet jutting out of the wall.
The cord’s location at a foot and a half off the ground is in a thin hallway connecting her apartment’s front door to the living room. But it is not her biggest annoyance.
Before riding the power chair out of the apartment, Bittle and Farrell must make sure the bathroom door outside the bedroom is shut, otherwise there is not enough clearance for both door and chair.
Recalling a past incident, Farrell said, “You got to watch what you’re doing, or you’ll bust a hole in the door.”
Another second-floor resident, Karen Ward, believes improvements to common areas like the garden will greatly benefit people in wheelchairs.
Ward, 62, needs help maintaining her 10-foot by 30-foot garden from her granddaughter and caregiver because she uses a cane and cannot climb into the middle of the plot to pick the tomatoes or cucumbers.
The proposed renovations to the garden and patio area include installation of raised garden plots and water and shelter facilities.
If the money is not received for the improvements, Steinhaus said the housing authority will complete the projects using its own capital funds, but it will take longer and be less cost effective.
“I am optimistic that we will be funded and can’t imagine how we could have submitted more competitive or more needed projects in the given time frame,” Steinhaus said in the e-mail.
A reply from HUD on the fate of these grants will be received by the first week of September.