Residents of the Park Avenue area and members of Grass Roots Organizing hosted a Fall Parade of Homes on Sunday in response to plans by the Columbia Housing Authority task force to demolish and redevelop the 70 existing homes in the area.
For months now, the task force has been working with two consultants hired from Kansas City to plan ways of redeveloping the neighborhood. At their last meeting, the task force agreed they wanted to demolish the 70 homes and rebuild with apartments, single-family homes and retail space. Park Avenue residents say they oppose demolition and invited Columbia residents into the neighborhood Sunday to show that their homes are perfectly livable just the way they are.
Robin Acree, director of Grass Roots Organizing, traveled from Mexico, Mo., to see the homes. She said she was amazed at the condition of the buildings.
“They’re trying to make to make them look run-down,” Acree said of the task force. “To demolish these homes would be wrong. You’re not just demolishing a home; you’re demolishing people’s lives.”
Vanita Jones of 207 N. Fifth St. proudly showed residents around her home, expressing how happy she is with her living conditions.
“I love this bathroom — this is the biggest bathroom I’ve ever had,” Jones said. “And this is my big and spacious room. I love my room.”
Jones, a new resident of the neighborhood, said she was surprised and annoyed when, after only living in her home for two months, she found out about plans for possible redevelopment. Her biggest worry, along with that of many of the other residents, is where they might live during the demolition phase.
“Just give me something in writing that when you are tearing them down, I’m not going to be out on the street,” Jones said.
Bill and Anna Belle Trumbo, who live in the Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible homes, also stressed concern over the issue of displacement.
“It makes you afraid you won’t have a place to go at our age,” Anna Belle said. “We can’t take much, and having to move would be difficult.”
Deborah Calvin, a resident of the affected area and member of the task force, agreed that residents like herself have a right to be concerned because there are many questions that the task force has yet to answer.
“I think they’ve refused to answer where they are going to move us, and there also needs to be some guarantee rent will be the same amount when we move back in,” Calvin said.
She said her home has been a haven for her over the five years she has lived there.
“I’m spoiled by it,” Calvin said. “I can’t see them putting me anywhere else.”
Columbia residents who came out to tour homes yesterday said they were surprised and impressed with what they saw. Linda Reed Brown and Diane Suhler, who came out to see the Park Avenue homes, said they were impressed by how welcoming the residents were by letting people into their homes and said they could see a sense of the community throughout the neighborhood.
“If (the demolition) happens, these people will be scattered everywhere and their social safety net will be gone,” Brown said.
Mary Hussmann of Grass Roots Organizing said she was happy with the event and all the work the residents put into it.
“We’re hoping to accomplish a movement of the larger community to be supportive of residents,” Hussmann said. “I think the great majority, there’s no doubt, oppose demolition.”