City studies revamped public housing

The East Park Avenue Public Housing Development may face demolition if the Columbia Housing Authority gets its way.
Thursday, December 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

The East Park Avenue Public Housing Development may face demolition if the Columbia Housing Authority gets its way.

An ordinance under consideration by the City Council would authorize spending $50,000 to hire a consultant to assist with a project that proposes demolition of the development. The housing, which has 70 units, would be replaced with construction of “various types of dwelling units targeting mixed incomes; it could also possibly include a mixed use component with compatible commercial uses,” said Bill Watkins, assistant city manager, in his report to the council.

In addition to assisting with the project, the consultant would help the city prepare an application to Hope VI, a program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program, which helps cities deal with demolition and revitalization of public housing areas, “could provide some funding to make these units more affordable through writing down development costs,” the report said.

Doris Chiles, executive director of the Columbia Housing Authority, said demolition of the buildings will be a likely component of the project because they were built in the 1960s and are outdated.

“We’ve been talking for about two years that the housing there may be nearing the end of its usefulness,” Chiles said. “The technology, wiring and plumbing of the buildings are inadequate.”

Chiles said the consultant is meant to help the city and housing authority decide what to do with the space, because “we don’t have the expertise” to do so alone. The parties involved will consider what has been done by other cities in similar situations.

“Often those projects in other cities have mixed uses with mixed-income housing, which includes people with different incomes living together in the same neighborhood,” she said.

Chiles also said the project will require a mixed-financing scheme, but the specifics have yet to be determined. The Housing Authority will contribute $50,000 for hiring the consultant, and will accept application for that position through Jan. 21, 2005.

Started in 1993, the Hope VI program came out of a commission formed by Congress to address severely distressed public housing, Donna White, spokeswoman for the program at HUD’s Washington, D.C. office, said.

White said Hope VI is an extensive and competitive program with several requirements that must be met by a city to receive a grant. One of those requirements is to have a developer already hired for the work.

Roy Pierce, field director of HUD’s St. Louis office, said Hope VI housing is different from the typical “project.”

“Hope VI integrates its housing with market-rate housing,” he said. “There is no way of distinguishing between residents and people in market-rate homes.”

Pierce said Hope VI “emphasizes self-sufficiency,” because it caters toward residents who would live there temporarily before buying a home. Because it is integrated with private housing, Hope VI housing has requirements for its residents.

“Previously, in St. Louis, we have required that residents must be employed or in some type of education program,” Pierce said.

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