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New housing, community diner to revitalize Sexton neighborhood

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:09 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The City of Columbia has purchased the homes at 106 and 108 Sexton Rd. with money from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which provides grants to states and cities for the purposes of revitalizing communities suffering from foreclosure and abandonment, according to the program's website.

COLUMBIA — Deborah Fristoe gets up most mornings at 5 to sit on her front porch on Sexton Road. She waves to people passing by and watches birds in the big tree across from her house.

The tree is in the yard of the empty house at 108 Sexton Road, one of four properties on the street that the city plans to turn into affordable housing. Just around the corner in the old T & H Restaurant, a community diner will provide residents with much-needed access to fresh food.

Details on both projects

COMMUNITY DINER

The project:

  • Comedor Popular will include obesity prevention, diabetes control, a restaurant serving meals to the general public, healthy meal cooking classes and a grocery store.
  • Centro Latino has a building permit for 609 Garth Ave. for Comedor Popular.

Funding

  • $1,000 has already been raised from fund-raising events.
  • $5,000 has been donated from people who like the idea.
  • $15,000 in services has been donated from architects and engineers, and professionals in general who are working on the building.
  • Last Wednesday, the Community Development Commission recommended the Columbia City Council to approve $138,000 in federal block grant funds for the project.

What next?

  • Contractors have looked at the building, independent bids on the building have been received, and Centro Latino is waiting for a few more bids to compare.
  • Comedor Popular and the programs surrounding the diner will be open as soon as the kitchen is finished and ready for use.

Source: Eduardo Crespi, founder and director of Centro Latino

SEXTON ROAD PROPERTIES

The Project

  • On June 7, the City Council voted to buy three empty houses and a fourth lot on Sexton Road with money from the Neighborhood Stabilization Act. Click here to see minutes from the June 7 meeting.
  • The lot at 106 W. Sexton Road and the empty houses at 108 and 110 W. Sexton Road are owned by the Intersection; Jennifer and Jesse Dack own 102 E. Sexton.
  • Potential plans for the properties include rehabilitation or new construction.

Funding

  • The Neighborhood Stabilization grant includes $235,917 for work on all homes owned by the city. The city has not yet acquired any of the Sexton properties.

What next?

  • The city must close on the properties by Sept. 1.
  • Construction work has to be under contract by Sept. 11.
  • Site planning and neighborhood engagement can continue beyond the Sept. 11 deadline.
  • The Neighborhood Stabilization Program gives up to 10 years for land banking projects such as this.
  • After the city closes on the properties, environmental review and other preliminaries must be completed before construction can begin.

Why these properties?

  • The properties on Sexton follow the Neighborhood Stabilization Program's specific guidelines:
  • There are other activities going on in the neighborhood, like Centro Latino's community diner project.
  • They are visible properties near a well-traveled intersection.
  • They are several lots together, creating an opportunity to affect more people.

What is affordable housing?

  • 120 percent of the area median income for Columbia. This means individuals or a family can acquire a home without spending more than 30 percent of their gross household income.

Source: Tim Teddy, city planning and development director


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Fristoe hopes the housing renovations will add more life to the neighborhood. "If there is a rough side of town, it doesn't have to affect everyone," Fristoe said.

She said she believes that once the houses across the street from her home are fixed up, other neighbors will be inspired to do similar renovations.

First Ward councilman Paul Sturtz said there is "a domino effect that comes when people start taking care of their houses.”

He said he thinks there are a lot of houses with deferred maintenance in the area that bring down the spirit of the neighborhood.

“Any time a house gets fixed up on a street, it’s a good thing,” Sturtz said.

Kimmy Bodle lives a few houses down the street from Fristoe. She said she has seen her share of violence since moving to the neighborhood and feels there is a need for direction. She's anxious for beneficial change — something to bring a new attitude to the neighborhood, she said.

Comedor Popular, the diner Centro Latino is developing at 609 N. Garth Ave., plans to offer free cooking classes for the public.

Bodle said she thinks those types of activities could be helpful for her friends and neighbors.

“I know people who don’t cook because they don’t know how to cook well,” she said. "The classes could help people avoid fast food.”

Bodle said she's certain residents of the neighborhood would take advantage of Comedor Popular, especially with the high prices of organic food at other outlets.

“The neighbors I’ve spoken with would be interested in organic food, I think they try to stay healthy,” Bodle said. “I would go there.”

Nathan Stephens, director of MU's Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, remembers playing in the area around Sexton Road as a kid.

“Hopefully that area can have young folks enjoying their time like I did when I was growing up,” Stephens said.

"Any time that something is done to increase the number of low-income housing for residents in the city, it's a good thing," he said. "How can someone be against that?"

Sean Coder, a garden volunteer at Centro Latino, helps run a farmers market on the corner of Garth Avenue and Lynn Street, where Comedor Popular is planned to be.

“It makes sense for this to be a thriving center,” Coder said.

The building for Comedor Popular has been gutted and is being cleaned up and readied for construction.

Dudley Roth owns the property and said he gave Centro Latino and its director, Eduardo Crespi, a deal on the building because he admires their mission.

“No doubt it will dramatically improve the neighborhood,” Roth said.

Crespi is paying rent, Roth said, and will own the building if grants come through.

The project won a key endorsement on Wednesday night when the Community Development Commission recommended $138,000 in federal block grant funds to be approved by the city council.

Karen Baxter, who lives in the area, said the building had been sitting empty for a long time with a lot of people hanging around. She said the diner would be an accessible place within walking distance for a lot of people.

Baxter lives in a house that was renovated, and she supports the housing project. She said she believes there is "a lot of improvement to the general atmosphere of a neighborhood" when rundown houses get repaired.

The Intersection, an independent, non-profit organization that provides programs for youth in the area, is located on Sexton Road near Comedor Popular and just down the street from the properties the city plans to renovate.

Dana Battison, director of The Intersection, likened Centro Latino’s new diner to a community kitchen that will emphasize community diversity. The Intersection keeps a garden, and Battison hopes her organization can help with growing fresh vegetables for the diner’s mission.

"I'm looking forward to finding more ways to work together," Battison said.


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Comments

Justin Thomas July 11, 2010 | 11:35 a.m.

Will these projects include the installation of backflow valves in sewer lines?
The ideas and activities related in this article are encouraging news for the residents of this neighborhood, and my comment is not intended to diminish the luster of this report. However, I do want to point out the irony of what is reported in this article. A 'community' development organization is in foreclosure. In other contexts I have expressed my concern about local development, and I will continue to argue that just because resources are made available from the top down does not mean that we must impose solutions in the same way.
No one is asking us what we would like to see in our neighborhood, and when we express our opinions they are not well received. (When concern was voiced about Resolution 20-10 in front of the City Council, it was brushed aside as irrelevant.) The way federal money, particularly the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), is allocated for use in the City is something that needs to be looked at carefully. Yes, affordable housing is an important issue; and, public housing projects are one way to address this problem. The city has two mechanisms that it uses to allocate funding from the federal program for Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HOME program and the CDBG program will administer $1.5 million during fiscal year 2010. While the HOME program is dedicated to housing projects, the Council policy is to allocate another 30% – 40% of CDBG funds for housing programs as well. Another $227,500 goes towards administration expenses and the Columbia Housing Authority. That leaves around 44% of for public improvements and services, with less than 10% of this money available for community development and health services.
While the future may look promising for development at the intersection of Garth and Sexton, we should not forget to ask who will benefit here. While a previous proposal for development at this location experienced opposition, there may be good reason why alternative proposals have not been offered since. A lack of available public support for local organization in combination with a culture that allocates resources based primarily on private interests has created an environment that is anathema to interests in community development. If we continue to build on troubled premises, our proposed solutions do little more than camouflage more important questions. Why does our Council continue to limit, despite the expressed public concern, the use of federal resources to housing projects and additional government bureaucracy? Why are requests for assistance in abating health hazards, e.g., sewage back-ups in our homes, evaluated on economic grounds?
Congratulations to those who have worked so hard in making the proposed changes to our neighborhood. I hope that the future does see your plans come to fruition, and that these changes initiate a more inclusive conversation about development in our community.

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