When Randy Cole was growing up, his parents regularly attended school board meetings and community events as well as serving in church leadership positions. This instilled in him the values of civic engagement that make him successful working in city government.
After completing a master’s in Public Affairs, working an internship in the Columbia city manager’s office and working on a construction crew, Cole found his niche: affordable housing policy. He has served as the Columbia’s housing programs manager since 2011 and acts as director of the Columbia Community Land Trust.
What does civic engagement mean to you?
I think being civically engaged means that you know what’s going on in your community. You know what needs exist out there, you know the different touch points from different political viewpoints from all across the spectrum and you’re sensitive to what those touch points are. And, when you can find some kind of thing that needs to be done or needle that needs to be threaded, you know how to pull all those different interests together and get things done.
Why is it important to ensure that people have access to quality, affordable housing?
Because people need a safe, stable place to live before they can think about anything else in life. Throughout our history, there has always been this misunderstanding that people can pull them up themselves up by their bootstraps. Certainly, we can all have a say in our own destiny and we can take control of our lives, but really, as a society, people struggle to be able to do that if they aren’t living in a safe place that they can afford. This is particularly true with children. In our community and Columbia Public Schools, the mobility rate, or a child who moves from one school to another throughout the school year, is about 28%. And that sets them back three to five weeks every time they move. Then they are behind in the curriculum. Then, think about outside activities, like is this child going to have time to join a soccer team or a different external activity? Without that housing stability, our children can’t have that forward-thinking experience in life where you can really develop yourself to be at your full potential.
How have you engaged the community in the creation of the Community Land Trust?
I think to make effective public policy and budgetary decisions, it has to be driven by a community process. We have a five-year plan. We just went through a big planning process where we involved a lot of community, not only by allowing them to have input in the meetings, but also in facilitating the meetings. Rather than facilitating discussions as city staff or procuring a consultant, we went and got our community members that have that expertise and that passion for their community. And I think it helped because it created a lot of buy-in for the effort.