New visions emerging for public housing in Columbia

Monday, June 18, 2012 | 7:17 p.m. CDT
Public housing units such as these on Providence Walkway, owned by the Columbia Housing Authority, might be renovated or replaced. The units are older than 50 years.

COLUMBIA – Marica Martin has been living with her daughter in a two-bedroom apartment on Providence Walkway for four years. The apartment is one of 719 public housing units built by the Columbia Housing Authority in the 1950's and 1970's as part of urban renewal.

Martin said the Housing Authority installed a new toilet, shower head and air conditioner about four months ago, and she's looking forward to seeing her utility bills go down.

Columbia Housing Authority Overview

Housing needs of families on the waiting list (Public Housing)

Waiting list total: 484 families

Extremely low income (less than 30 percent of Columbia's median household income): 455 families (94 percent)

Very low income (greater than 30 percent but less than 50 percent): 28 families (6 percent)

Low income ( greater than 50 percent but less than 80 percent): 1 (0 percent)

0 bedrooms: 47 (10 percent)

bedrooms: 384 (79 percent)

bedrooms: 37 (8 percent)

bedrooms: 8 (2 percent)

bedrooms: 8 (2 percent)


Housing needs of families on the waiting list (Section 8)

Waiting list total: 1,086 families

Extremely low income: 958 families (88 percent)

Very low income: 111 families (10 percent)

Low income: 15 (1 percent)

bedrooms: 1 (0 percent)

bedrooms: 438 (40 percent)

bedrooms: 356 (33 percent)

bedrooms: 235 (22 percent)

bedrooms: 49 (5 percent)

bedrooms: 8 (1 percent)


Fiscal Year 2012 Columbia Housing Authority Revenues

Total: $11 million

Special Housing Vouchers Assistance Payments: $706,660

Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments: $5 million

Public Housing Operations: $4 million


Fiscal Year 2012 Public Housing Revenues

Total: $4 million

Tenant Rent: $1 million

Capital Projects Grants: $642,221

Public Housing Operating Subsidies: $2 million

Other Tenant Revenue: $158,400

Non-Dwelling Rent: $106,032

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“These houses are very old,” Martin said.

As the costs of maintaining its aging public housing increases, the Housing Authority  has embarked on a master plan that could involve renovating or replacing public housing downtown and buying additional property for housing that could be mixed with various income houses or businesses.

Residents will be briefed on work by consulting firms helping with the planning effort during a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Housing Authority office, 201 Switzler St.

Genie Rogers, vice-chair of the Columbia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, said the greatest challenge she's seen in her 21 years with the agency is the deterioration of the public housing.

"It is very difficult to make repairs," Rogers said. "Our units are aged and their usability has run down. We have repaired them time after time. It’s a losing proposition now. We want economically friendly, more adaptable houses. It was a huge expense for maintenance."

In April, the Housing Authority contracted a group of consulting companies to develop a plan to add low-income housing to Columbia’s rental inventory and increase housing options for working families, elderly and individuals with special needs.

The group includes ND Consulting Group of St. Louis, Tim Person & Associates of St. Louis and Capital Consultants Inc. of Louisiana. The contract is for three years with two negotiated one-year extension options. The Housing Authority will pay the consultants $40,000 for the strategic plan.

Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the Housing Authority, said his agency needs different kinds of products to put together a long-term strategic plan.

“There are many options,” Steinhaus said. “Some might be mixed-income housing, and possibly mix-used development.” He said home-ownership opportunities for households earning at or below 60 percent of the median family income in Columbia is another option.

Most of the Housing Authority's homes are for people earning under 30 percent of the median family income in Columbia, Steinhaus said.

Steinhaus said his agency aims to build strong, inclusive communities that reflect the diversity of Columbia. He believes a mixed-income neighborhood can provide more equal opportunities to low-income families.

“It is about community engagement,” he said. “As we move forward, we want to have a very strong support from the community of what we are doing. It is more about the community than housing.”

Steinhaus said partnerships with commercial developers might be another option.

“If we own a property, we might give a discount on the rent to the owner of a small business or grocery store if they hire public housing employees,” he said. “This can create job opportunities to residents and solve the transportation barrier.”

Steinhaus talked about other ideas such as working with Columbia Public Schools. 

“Every time there is a new school built in the community, we can build affordable housing near the school,” he said. Properties near schools usually have high value, he said, and low-income residents can’t afford them.

ND Consulting Group is surveying vacant properties near public housing. 

“Once we identify the vacant properties, we are contacting the property owners to explore their interest in selling the property,” Michele Duffe of ND Consulting Group said. “We have already got some positive responses.” 

If the Housing Authority obtains the vacant lots, it will submit an application to the Missouri Housing Development Commission's Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program to develop new rental homes. 

Steinhaus said renovating older public housing units and replacing them with new buildings could also be an option. He said the decision will be made based on the cost-benefit analysis conducted by consultants and communication with tenants and others in the community. If the maintenance expense is excessive, he said, the agency might have no other choice.

Problems in older housing include poor insulation, little or no storage, aging sewer systems and foundation issues that are expensive to repair, Steinhaus said.

Capital Consultants is studying the existing public housing units and will make recommendations and estimate associated costs. 

“It is too early to say what will be done,” Duffe said.

According to Housing Authority figures, the agency's total revenue for fiscal year 2011 was about $12 million including grants, rent and other revenues. About $4 million was spent on public housing; the total maintenance was about $1.4 million and administrative expenses were about $1.8 million.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Ray Shapiro June 19, 2012 | 12:41 p.m.

Columbia seems to be catching up with most of the rest of the country.
And not necessarily for the better...

("Why is crime rising in so many American cities? The answer implicates one of the most celebrated antipoverty programs of recent decades.")

("As Program Moves Poor to Suburbs, Tensions Follow ")

(Report Comment)
Bob Hill June 19, 2012 | 3:35 p.m.

So homes built in the 50s and 70s are too old? A large number of people find maintenance on these homes to be a LOT cheaper than building a new home.

So what gives? What's different here? I have two guesses: 1) these homes have been abused and/or not well maintained in the past or 2) someone is looking to expand their domain with OPM (other people's money).

Probably a little of both.

(Report Comment)

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