Lower-priced homes concentrated in one area

Many of city’s affordable homes are in crime-ridden neighborhood.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:05 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

For years the city of Columbia has concentrated its affordable housing efforts in the racially and economically segregated neighborhoods that straddle Providence Road, just north of Broadway.

Potential homebuyers in search of an affordable house — one costing no more than $80,000 — are largely confined to searching in these neighborhoods, where residents live apart in communities of their own.

These neighborhoods often lack key commercial services and have high crime rates, according to a Missourian analysis of demographic, economic and police incident data.

More than half of the city’s affordable single-family homes listed for sale on the National Association of Realtors Web site in November were in central northwest and central northeast Columbia, according to the Missourian analysis. The neighborhoods cover the area bounded by Broadway, Interstate 70, Stadium Boulevard and Route 63.

Decades ago, when the city of Columbia planned its neighborhoods, the intention was to keep blacks and whites apart. A 1988 Missourian story about persistent racial segregation in public housing, which is concentrated in the city’s most affordable neighborhoods, noted that, in the 1930s, city planners had sought to keep blacks and whites from living in the same neighborhoods. A planning map of that era noted “black districts.” Today those districts make up neighborhoods inside the city’s most affordable areas.

As a result, the city now faces the reality of overlapping racial and housing segregation.

The central northwest part of the city, which has the city’s greatest number of affordable single-family homes, also has the highest concentration of black residents in the city, according to a Missourian analysis of 2000 Census data.

Economic segregation persists there, too. Most of the residents have incomes that are lower than that of the city as a whole, the Missourian found.

Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman said that it’s not unusual for low-income families to live in central areas of cities.

“It’s where jobs and bus lines are, along with the lower cost of living and housing,” Hindman said.

The cost of an affordable house is calculated using guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and local income figures from the 2000 Census.

But a gulf exists between the federal government’s definition of affordable and what’s within the reach of many people living in central Columbia, said First Ward City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton.

“Eighty thousand dollars is too high a price. Nobody can afford it.

“They’re not being realistic,” Crayton said. “On Pendleton and Worley there are some houses for $70,000, $80,000. That’s not really affordable housing.”

According to Crayton, only one of four residents in the affordable housing areas own their own homes, and most of them are older; the rest are renters. According to the 2000 Census, just 15 percent of the housing units in some of the Census tracts within the affordable areas are owner occupied.

Yesterday, the Missourian reported that these areas also have higher rejection rates for mortgage loan applications. Lenders reject applications for homes in these neighborhoods 30 percent more often than they do in all other areas of Columbia.

While the affordable areas are centrally located near government services and public transportation, most residents do not live within walking distance of grocery stores or banks, the Missourian found.

The Nowell’s at Worley Street and West Boulevard closed in late 2000 and is being converted into a community health clinic. Schnuck’s, formerly at Broadway and Providence Road, closed in 1993 and was replaced by an Office Depot. Residents of the central northwest area now live at least a mile from the nearest grocery store. Transportation planners consider one-quarter mile a reasonable walking distance.

According to 2000 Census data, many residents of the central northwest and central northeast areas of the city lack access to vehicles and have to walk or use public transportation to buy groceries.

“Most of them do catch the bus, but most also walk because the bus doesn’t come all that often,” Crayton said.

The closest banks for residents of affordable neighborhoods are now along Broadway in the downtown business district. During the past decade, the Mercantile Bank of St. Louis at 800 N. Providence Road closed, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Residents do, however, have their choice of 10 payday loan shops, pawn shops and the like – all of which charge higher interest rates for their financial services than banks.

Per capita crime rates are significantly higher in the affordable areas of Columbia. Crime is most prevalent north of Broadway, especially west of Range Line Street, according to a Missourian analysis of Columbia Police Department incident data.

Between 2000 and 2002, there was about one reported crime per year for every two residents in the area bounded roughly by Business Loop 70 on the north, Broadway on the south, Range Line Street on the east and McBaine Avenue on the west. Only the downtown area had a higher crime rate for those three years.

South of Broadway, it’s a different story. In the southeast part of town – south of Broadway, west of Providence Road and north of Nifong Boulevard – the average crime rate is about one reported incident for every 20 residents.

During the past several years, developers have run into considerable opposition to proposed affordable housing projects outside the affordable areas.

Neighbors opposed a plan by Kodiak Resources to build 36 single-family homes in Wyatt Lane Acres in northeast Columbia, saying they feared their property values would decrease. The proposal died early last year when the Missouri Housing Development Commission failed to provide financing.

Neighbors of Windy Point, a proposed mixed-use residential development just north of the city, opposed the project because they said it would decrease property values and increase traffic and crime. The Boone County Commission rejected Windy Point, which included plans for affordable and mobile homes, in 2000.

Two proposals inside the affordable areas likewise attracted opposition.

Picerne Development Corp., a national housing developer, faced neighborhood opposition to its Parkridge Apartments proposal. Neighbors said they feared that the proposed six-building, 48-apartment complex across from Ridgeway Elementary School would bring traffic congestion and reduce the amount of green space in the neighborhood. The proposal died when the state housing commission declined to fund it in 1999.

Last year, neighbors opposed a plan by Show-Me Central Habitat for Humanity to build four duplexes for the disabled and elderly at 407 Ridgeway Ave. For now, however, the project is still on the table.

The city of Columbia has begun looking for answers to the question of how to provide more affordable housing. Last year, the City Council commissioned a report from J-Quad & Associates, a Dallas-based consultant, that will include an analysis of the local affordable housing market.

Hindman said he wants to consider alternatives to traditional affordable-housing programs, including developing mixed-income residential areas near downtown, to bolster the economic health of the central city.

“It will be resisted, and it’s going to be tough,” Hindman said. “It will take the federal, state and local government, lenders, private developers and creative financing.”

Crayton also hopes to find answers by holding a community forum for residents to discuss their neighborhoods and the challenges they face there.

“When you own your own neighborhood, things are different,” she said. “It’s up to us as a community to keep it nice.”

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