Week-long celebration touts neighborhood development in Columbia

City leaders today kicked off a week-long celebration of what they consider to be the “lifeblood” of community life and development in Columbia.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin discusses efforts of city's community development department. (Photo by Kelly Petty)

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin discusses efforts of the city’s community development department. (Photo by Kelly Petty)

National Community Development Week celebrates the more than 40 years Columbia’s community development department has worked to support the city’s neighborhoods.

“Communities that are smart and are preparing for the future realize that only so much can come from federal government every year,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “We’re seeing a tool that, when leveraged properly, can truly change communities. And it’s done that here in Columbia, South Carolina.”

Two signature programs managed by the city’s community development agency are the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME Investment Partnerships.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided more than $4.5 million in funding to revitalize Columbia’s parks and build affordable homes. The Earlewood Park community center, which includes a conference room and playground, was built in 2013 with $800,000 in CDBG funds, said Dollie Bristow, the city’s community development administrator.

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Senior Resources: provided meals, home health and personal care for the elderly

Epworth Children’s Home: funded transitional housing for youth ages 18 to 24

Fast Forward: provided education programs for homeless or at-risk veterans

City Lender I and II: assisted four homebuyers purchasing homes within 2014-2015 fiscal year

Affordable Housing Program: closed 39 loans for individuals and families becoming homeowners during the 2014-2015 fiscal year

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The Burton Heights neighborhood, off Farrow Road in North Columbia, added several affordable homes in 2014 that were paid for with $650,000 in federal HOME Investment Partnerships funds. The city has received more than $2.5 million in HOME funding to support housing development and homeownership financing for low-income residents.

“There can be nothing better to be done with federal dollars than to return it to the community and make life better for those that we serve,” said Larry Knightner, HUD’s local field office director.

Throughout this week, residents can learn more about the community development department’s programs at several pop-up booths located in each council district.

“I’m sure people are not aware of some of the things they see every day that have been impacted or have been (paid for) through these federal funds,” Bristow said.

The week will culminate with a neighborhood leadership summit from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 2300 Greene St., near the Five Points district.

Benjamin said the city is preparing an application to HUD for $20 million in disaster recovery funds it was awarded early this month to pay for damage repairs related to last October’s flooding in the Midlands.

“We know we can be the most talented, educated, entrepreneurial city in America,” he said. “We’re building it brick by brick together with the support of HUD and CDBG programs.”

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