Published Oct. 12, 2012
The Columbia Housing Authority received a $250,000 grant on Friday from the federal government to develop plans aimed at redeveloping public housing communities at Allen Benedict Court and Gonzales Gardens.
“This funding will enable the Housing Authority of the City of Columbia to take its initial discussions with local partners further to plan out strategies to build a stronger, more sustainable community that will address distressed housing, failing schools, rampant crime in this housing and neighborhood,” said Ed Jennings Jr., Southeast regional administrator of the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs.
The money comes from HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a program that seeks to transform distressed neighborhoods. The housing authority will use the money to fund research and development of a plan to redevelop the two communities, replacing barracks-style apartment buildings with single- multi-family housing.
Benedict Court and Gonzales Garden are in a section of the city called East Central. The area suffers from a range of problems include a 57% poverty rate. Also, 14% of the housing units in the area are vacant.
East Central is one of the most historic African-American areas in Columbia, dating back to the 1870s. At one time, the area was home to the city’s most prominent African-American community.
The housing authority already has two public housing redevelopment projects under its belt – Saxon Homes and Hendley Homes, representing a total investment of $37 million from HUD’s Hope VI program.
Approximately 700 housing units at the two sites were razed, new homes built and streets paved. The Saxon redevelopment project at Read and Harden Streets, which was completed in 2006, included commercial buildings and the Drew Wellness Center. Hendley Homes, now called Rosewood Hills, was finished in 2009.
Key partners in the East Central project include the city’s community development department, Benedict College, Allen University, Providence Hospital, Palmetto Health, Richland 1, Midlands Technical College, University of South Carolina and Eau Claire Promise Zone.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said he was optimistic about the housing authority’s project’s chances, citing a cooperative spirit among various groups that’s led to a revitalization of the Waverly neighborhood and the downtown Main Street area.
“Look at this broad coalition of local government and true neighborhood and community leaders, public officials, educators, and job creators,” said during an award ceremony at the Cecil Tillis Center, 2111 Simpkins Lane. “Let there be no doubt as we stand here that we believe in the future of this community, we believe in the future of this city.”