Neighbors, activists question price, design of Columbia Housing Authority plan

Thursday, April 18, 2013 | 11:34 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The preliminary plans for the Columbia Housing Authority's affordable housing at Garth Avenue and Sexton Road were presented at a neighborhood meeting Thursday night at Oak Towers.

The authority is proposing to build 40 one-bedroom units for the elderly on the northeast section of the site and as many as six single-family homes that could be bought and up to 19 homes that could be rented on the southwest section.

Sexton Road and Garth Avenue are the boundaries of the northeast section. Lynn Street, Oak Street, Sexton Road and Garth Avenue complete the southwest section.

The city of Columbia owns three lots on the site, the Columbia Community Development Corp. owns three and the housing authority owns six. 

Residents listened to presentations by Phil Steinhaus and Rick Huss of the housing authority, Randy Cole from the city’s Department of Community Development and Kenneth Nuernberger, who was representing ND Consulting Group, which is helping the authority refine its plan.

Residents asked the representatives if the design would fit in with the neighborhood, who would be able to afford the units and whether the project was a viable investment for the public.

The southwest portion of the development would include space for businesses. Residents asked what would happen if these commercial renters failed to pay rent, and seemed to worry that they might have their rents raised to make up for the lost revenue. 

Mary Hussmann wondered if the elderly would be able to afford the units.

"Can an elderly person who earns $1,000 from their Social Security have the ability to live in any of these units?" Hussmann, community organizer with Grassroots Organizing, said. "Affordability is a relative term. To some people, $100,000 could be affordable."

Nuernberger said the collaborative groups couldn't make rents any cheaper. 

"There's just not enough housing subsidies from the federal government," Nuernberger said. "Some of affordable housing initiatives will have to be subsidized through private funding. This program provides affordability for people with some level of income from jobs, like Wal-Mart." 

Pat Kelley, the vice president of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, said she supported the idea because there is a lot of need for affordable housing.

However, Kelley was concerned about affordability.

"I don't know if a lot of people would pay $400 a month," Kelley said. She also said she was unsure if the designs fit in with the architecture of the neighborhood.

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