Columbia continues to fall behind in affordable housing objectives

BY Eric Holmberg

COLUMBIA — The city continues to fall behind in roughly half of 42 objectives that are meant to improve access to affordable housing.

The goals are part of a five-year plan, which began in 2010. The latest update, which covers 2012, was approved during Monday night’s City Council meeting. It will be sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Nov. 10.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe was the only council member during the meeting who spoke about the city’s progress on the affordable housing goals.

“My assessment was: We’re behind,” she said.

In response, Community Development Director Tim Teddy agreed the city was behind in some areas, such as homebuyer assistance and the creation of a Housing Trust Fund that would provide affordable housing.

“Some will be on track, some will be behind,” Teddy said. He later concluded the situation was “kind of a mixed scoresheet.”

To accomplish these goals each year, the city requests thousands of dollars in federal aid. The upcoming year is no exception.

The city is requesting $770,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Program and $575,000 through the HOME Investment Partnership Program from the federal housing department.

Last year, the city asked for $925,000 in block grant and $650,000 for the home program.

This year’s requested block grant would fully fund 12 projects and pay for parts of four others, according to a previous Missourian report.

The most expensive project would improve the fire alarm system at Oak and Paquin towers, both run by the Columbia Housing Authority. The federal grant is expected to cover $100,000 of the costs with the housing authority paying the remaining $10,000.

The complexes, which mainly house older people and people with disabilities, have an antiquated fire alarm system that is activated by the sprinkler system or one smoke detector in front of the elevator doors on each floor.

The improvements will “bring it up to modern fire protection codes,” housing authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said. The improvements include lever-activated fire alarms on each floor, more smoke detectors and alarms with flashing strobe lights.

This plan would help install more than 80 alarms and 137 smoke detectors at the two locations. It will also pay for more than 60 stations where someone can pull a lever to activate an alarm manually.

The alarms will have a voice system that say the type of emergency, what floor it is on and commands for the residents depending on the situation.

One of the affordable housing plan’s objectives seeks to make 30 houses more accessible to people with disabilities. One example would be installing a wheelchair ramp at someone’s home, which Services for Independent Living has done twice this year. Overall, seven homes have been fixed since 2010 with one more being improved. The goal is to fix six homes next year, which would place the city roughly halfway toward its goal.

Another objective is to provide home maintenance education to 150 people, but no one has been educated so far.

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