Many residents decry housing authority’s plan to own streets

In an informal poll,
a majority opposed privatizing streets.
Monday, November 10, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:03 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dawn Richardson knows Trinity Place is not the safest place to live in Columbia, but she said privatizing her street will not rid it of violence and drugs — it will only strip residents of their individual rights.

Richardson was one of the 102 public housing residents who voted in a recent, unofficial referendum organized by Grass Roots Organizing, a local nonprofit that assists families living in poverty. The referendum was designed to measure residents’ feelings about a possible privatization of the streets adjacent to their homes.

“It is a bad idea,” Richardson said.

In September, the Columbia Housing Authority began discussing the possibility of asking the city to transfer ownership of streets in front of public housing units to the authority.

Ownership would allow the housing authority to create a no-trespassing list and arrest individuals, such as drug dealers if their names were on the list, officials said.

The streets being considered for privatization include Elleta Boulevard, Lincoln Drive, Trinity Place and Unity Drive. Last week’s referendum was carried out in homes on both sides of the four streets.

Seventy percent of the voters said they do not want streets near public housing units to be owned by the housing authority. About 10 percent said they were for privatization and 20 percent were undecided.

Mary Hussmann, one of the organizers of the referendum, said the opinions of residents should be heard.

“People don’t want a change,” she said.

While Hussmann said the vote is imprecise, she said it shows that residents are against having their public streets taken away.

The housing authority said earlier that it is exploring privatizing the streets in an attempt to crack down on crime, which plagues many public housing areas in Columbia.

Genie Rogers, the vice chairwoman of the Columbia Housing Authority commissioners board, said she has not seen the results of the referendum.

However, she said the referendum was premature, since the issue has yet to be discussed by the board.

“Obviously, we are not going to do something that is not in the best interests of our residents,” Rogers said. She said the privatization issue will be discussed in January after a public hearing with area residents.

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