COLUMBIA — At times, even the microphone could not help Almeta Crayton’s voice be heard above the array of questions being shouted from underneath the Douglass Park Pavilion.
"We can all sing together but we can’t talk together," said Crayton, who helped organize Thursday's public discussion.
About 40 community members and public officials gathered together in Douglass Park to discuss issues they felt confronted the First Ward. Crayton said the event was meant to give people a chance to ask officials questions directly.
Many of the questions were directed to the Columbia Housing Authority and its initiative to expand affordable housing opportunities. Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the Housing Authority, stressed that it is early in the process of the initiative and that is why the housing authority is seeking residents' input.
Concerns included relocating residents and preventing them from moving back in after their home has been refurbished. Steinhaus assured residents they would be allowed to return if they wanted to remain in Columbia, or they could be given a Section 8 voucher and be allowed to move elsewhere. Residents would also receive help from a "relocation specialist" to find temporary housing, Steinhaus said.
"How many of you have had your fire alarm go off because there is no vent over the stove?" Steinhaus said to replies of "everybody" from the crowd. Steinhaus asked this question to help explain why the houses needed refurbishing.
The preliminary estimate of refurbishing apartments along Lincoln Drive, Unity Drive, West Worley Street, Hicks Drive, Park Avenue, Providence Walkway and the east side of Providence Road is about $70,000 to $80,000 per unit.
- Mike Hood, Columbia Parks and Recreation director, was asked about the lack of activities for adults. He said the department is not hosting as many events as 20 years ago due to increased focus on children and budget cuts.
- Audience members also questioned why the media refers to crime in the community as being in the "Douglass Park area" or "near Douglass Park." Crayton said this unfairly labels the park, as well as the Douglass Park neighborhood, as unsafe.
- Columbia Police Officer James Meyer spoke about the idea of community policing in patrolling the Douglass Park area. "We have found people we genuinely love," Meyer said about patrolling the area recently. He invited community members to play officers in a baseball game at 7 p.m. July 28 at the park.
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