Columbia’s oldest public housing gets an updated look

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By Waverly Colville / Columbia Daily Tribune

The Columbia Housing Authority has finished the first phase of its project to rehabilitate its entire 719-unit inventory.

On Wednesday the organization will show the public its work when it hosts an open house and dedication for the Stuart Parker Apartments in central Columbia. The 84 apartments underwent a major redesign, upgrading the oldest public housing units in Columbia from their former 1950s style to modern, energy-efficient and insulated apartments.

The Stuart Parker Apartments were built in 1958, so the renovations not only included redoing the floors, bathrooms and kitchen, but also focused on meeting modern-day electrical needs.

“When the (apartments) were built, most people didn’t have a TV or computers and all the modern appliances that people have now so the very small breaker boxes didn’t meet everyone’s electrical demand,” Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said.

The Columbia Housing Authority also added washer and dryer hookups, front and back porches, new kitchen cabinets and energy-efficient furnaces and air conditioners.

“If someone can only afford $100 or $150 a month in rent, they can’t afford $200 in utilities,” Steinhaus said.

CHA also added in accessible units to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There were none before the renovations because the buildings were built before the 1990 law.

Pat Miller is a 72-year-old tenant in Columbia’s public housing units. She just moved into a Stuart Parker apartment, her fifth in Columbia’s public housing in the last 10 years. She had to move apartments because she fell down the stairs in her previous one.

“I’m just happy to be back,” Miller said. “I like the new one.”

The housing authority wrapped up the first phase of its rehabilitation project last week, which included renovating Paquin Tower apartments. Work on the Bear Creek townhomes and Oak Tower is in progress. Once all four are completed, 509 of the housing authority’s 719 will be updated.

These upgrades are possible because of CHA’s participation in the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, Steinhaus said. The program guarantees a stable annual subsidy, which helps CHA to secure loans and attract investors through the use of federal and state tax credits, he said.

Renovation of the Stuart Parker apartments cost about $8.5 million and work on Paquin Tower cost about $4.5 million.

Tenants pay 30 percent of their monthly income as rent.

CHA has to apply separately for tax credit funding for each phase of the project, but the Missouri Housing Development Commission has not requested plans for funding consideration, Steinhaus said.

“We’re disappointed in that but we hope that in time they will issue another round of tax credits and we’ll apply at that time,” Steinhaus said. “It just depends on what they do with the tax credit program.”

Steinhaus said he predicts the project will take at least five years to complete.

There is a lack of affordable housing in Columbia, Steinhaus said. CHA has a two-year waiting list. Steinhaus said he predicts they won’t get through the list until next spring.

“If we left the wait list open, we’d probably have 8,000 applications,” Steinhaus said. “There’s no point in us having (to tell) someone we’d be able to offer you housing 10 years from now.”

The dedication and open house at Stuart Parker Apartments is set for 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Unity Park.

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