COLUMBIA — Vacant land near the Columbia Housing Authority’s Oak Towers will be developed into homes for low- to moderate-income people if the Columbia City Council follows through on a proposal included in City Manager Mike Matthes's proposed budget for fiscal year 2016.
The council voted unanimously Aug. 17 to allow the city to close on a contract with the Columbia Community Development Corp. for three lots on Lynn Street between Oak Street and North Garth Avenue. Oak Towers faces North Garth just around the corner from the lots.
The development corporation is willing to sell the land to the city because it is no longer in the housing business, Enterprise Development Corp. Executive Director Donna Hamilton said. Enterprise Development serves as the administrator of the Columbia Community Development Corp.
For the past 20 years, local banks have funded the nonprofit agency to redevelop dilapidated property and make it available to people with low or moderate incomes. The corporation had high school student apprentices from the Columbia Area Career Center build the homes, which allowed the corporation to sell them at reduced prices.
In recent years, the increasing cost of construction materials and a lack of affordable property has impeded efforts to continue the program, Hamilton said.
“They are static right now,” she said of the Columbia Community Development Corp. “As far as which direction that they are going to go, it hasn’t been decided.”
The city will hire a private developer to build four cottage-style residences on the lots, Columbia Housing Program supervisor Randy Cole said. The city plans to consult the neighborhood about the design for the lots and homes, but Cole said it is likely the homes will be arranged in adjoining pairs, with each pair sharing a driveway and a communal green space in the center of the residences.
“The plans have come out of a lot of public input,” both from the city and neighborhood, Cole said. He added that the city anticipates breaking ground in the spring and finishing the homes by winter 2016.
Cole estimated the homes will be between 1,100 and 1,300 square feet and likely will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The Lynn Street properties will be part of the city’s net zero housing plan, which aims to reduce homes’ energy use. Solar panels located off-site will provide energy to the four homes.
Before construction can begin, funding for the project must be approved by the council. Matthes has included in his budget $200,000 of surplus from fiscal 2014 to help pay for the Lynn Street project.
Cole estimates the project will cost a total of $500,000 and said the city hopes to partner with a local bank to bridge the difference during construction.
The property must also be rezoned before the homes are built because current zoning would allow only three houses.
A staff report to the council said the $45,765 it will take to buy the lots will come from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which aims to revitalize abandoned properties, and a federal Community Development Block Grant.
The new Lynn Street cottages will target participants in Columbia’s Homeownership Assistance Program, Cole said. The program gives money to families who cannot afford a down payment on a house. According to the city’s website, participants in the program can receive funding for up to $7,500 or 7.5 percent of the purchase price of the home.
For a family to qualify for one of the redeveloped Lynn Street homes, its income must fall below 80 percent of the median income in Columbia, which is $58,000 for a family of four, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The city is finishing the rehabilitation of two other single-family homes across Lynn Street. It also plans to build a new sidewalk and a bus shelter in the area and help pay for a new exterior for Centro Latino de Salud resource center.
The housing authority owns the property surrounding the Lynn Street parcels, and the city is interested in buying some of it to further redevelop the area, Cole said. Residents are concerned about frequent flooding on property north of Lynn Street on Oak, and Cole said the city will consult with residents on any development plans if the property is acquired.
He said the city would consider building a community garden or other amenity if the neighborhood favored the idea.
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