Gonzales Gardens demolition gets support from Columbia City Council

Columbia City Council has thrown support behind the demolition and redevelopment of the Gonzales Gardens apartment complex. Members voted unanimously to back plans from the Columbia Housing Authority to revitalize the 19.5-acre public housing development just off Forest Drive.

Council, however, did not approve a $1 million grant request from the housing authority to help cover the costs of tearing down the 280-unit complex and relocating residents, which was discussed during Tuesday’s council work session. But members will look at allocating funds for the project in the upcoming 2016-17 budget.

“Money is very tight now as it relates to federal government,” said housing authority Director Gilbert Walker. “We’ve decided that we were going to go out on our own.”

[cp_quote style=”quote_right_dark”]“It is critical that the city be a part of what we’re trying to do.” – Columbia Housing Authority Director Gilbert Walker[/cp_quote]

Walker and his staff are on a fundraising mission to secure money through banks and private partnerships as well as through city and county grants to cover the $2.1 million budget shortfall the agency faces to begin work on Gonzales Gardens.

Costs for the project total a little more than $2.6 million. About $1.8 million will be used to demolish the development, while an additional $300,000 would be used for asbestos and lead testing and removal.

Walker said more than $559,000 in the housing authority’s budget would cover the testing as well as pay for the relocation of residents.

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The process to begin moving families out could take up to nine months and could be complete by December, according to Walker. He said demolition could begin in spring 2017, if not sooner, once the housing authority can secure the necessary funds.

“It is critical that the city be a part of what we’re trying to do,” Walker said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the demolition of Gonzales Gardens last month. Walker said families were notified around Christmas and have been given the option to relocate to another public housing option under the Columbia Housing Authority or to receive a voucher to pay for private housing secured on their own.

HUD allocated 274 vouchers for all the households. Nancy Stoudenmire, director of human resources and planning, said the CHA would assess the needs of families over the next three months before starting the move. Once Gonzales Gardens is vacated, 616 people will be affected.

“Nobody will be placed on the street,” Walker said.

The housing authority’s current housing stock includes Bayberry Mews, Capital Heights, Falling Springs and Elmtree/Georgetown. New apartments at Village At Rivers Edge, developed by CHAMIRE Holdings LLC and Carolina Panthers defensive back Charles Johnson, will be available by February, according to Walker. About 100 units will be available in a new housing authority-owned community near Palmetto Health Richland called Lorick Place.

The new development expected to take the place of Gonzales Gardens is expected to cost $60 million to build. Mungo Homes has partnered with the housing authority to develop the new complex. Walker said it would offer mixed-income units, including tax credit units and market rate units and that it would be modeled after the Rosewood Hills community.

Housing authority officials said they have partnered with Richland School District One to ensure displaced students can stay within the district. Of the families living in Gonzales Gardens, 147 include children.

Walker said Gonzales Gardens is the third-oldest public housing development in the country. It opened in 1940 for officers serving at Fort Jackson.

Newly-elected City Councilman Ed McDowell, whose district includes Gonzales Gardens, called the future development to be “a renaissance” for the Waverly community. He got reassurance from Walker that he would be kept abreast of the development’s progress so he can inform residents in the neighborhood.

“Keep me in the loop,” he said. “I want to make sure and ensure that persons know what’s going on.”

The housing authority submitted a request for Richland County Council to waive the dumping fees after the demolition to reduce the costs of the project. A Richland County Council spokesperson said the council is looking at alternative ways to support the project.