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For several years now, reporters across the Missouri News Network have looked closely at the issue of homelessness in Columbia – and beyond. Reporters and photographers talked with those who are unhoused, those who are finding ways to help homeless people, and leaders and policymakers working on funding and policy changes to bring change to the homeless community. Here is a collection of those stories.

Boone County launches survey to assess housing needs

The Boone County Government Building during a rain storm on March 7, 2024.
Rebecca Smith
The Boone County Government Building during a rain storm on March 7, 2024.

Boone County is asking residents to fill out a survey about their housing needs as part of a large-scale study of the county’s housing market. The county is partnering with the City of Columbia to fund the study in the hopes of finding ways to expand housing opportunities.

The anonymous survey asks residents about their current living situation, plans for the future and what they value in a home.

The county has enlisted Florida-based consulting firm Amarach Planning Services to conduct the study. The firm is set to provide a list of policy recommendations tailored to the needs of Boone County residents this fall.

“It’s important for us to engage with a consultant who’s had good experience at the national level to address the issues of affordable housing,” said Boone County Presiding Commissioner Kip Kendrick. “You know, it’s the Show-Me state, so show us some projects, some incentives, some regulations that can be relaxed, where that’s worked, where it’s failed, how we can improve.”

David Boston is the owner of Amarach Planning Services and an urban planner with a doctoral degree in urban and regional planning and design. He said the study is still in its early, information-gathering phase, and survey data is a key part of hearing from a diverse group of stakeholders.

“You can hear things from people through survey responses that you don’t hear when you’re talking with stakeholders who are involved in this every day,” Boston said. “Someone in finance is looking at it from a finance perspective. Someone in construction, same thing; you kind of get tunnel vision, to a certain degree. And then you open up a survey, and you’re hearing from people all over the county.”

“Community meetings are great for that, too,” he added. “Because with the community meetings, you’re reaching out to a large group of people, and they’re talking together. And so you can get some insights from a community meeting that you don’t get from hearing from somebody one-on-one.”

Boston is set to lead a handful of community meetings throughout Boone County during the second week of April, the first being at 1:30 p.m. April 8 at the Columbia Public Library.

"If you’re doing it right, you should be setting it up so that you’re creating more winners and fewer losers.”
David Boston

He said it’s too early in the study to determine many substantial insights, but one early takeaway is the tension between student and family housing in the housing market. In many college towns, Boston said, the incentive to build student housing can cause it to dominate the market.

“In downtown Columbia, it looks like there’s some new housing getting built, and it’s catering specifically to students,” he said. “They’re more expensive to build. They’re built in a way that they’re four bedrooms, and each bedroom has an attached bathroom in such a way that you really couldn’t reuse that in the future for anybody else. It’s really just going to be for students now and for the whole life of that building.”

Boston said that while some policies can favor one group of stakeholders over another, cost-effective policies can help everyone in the housing market.

“It’s just a matter of thinking through what it is that people need, what it is that people want,” Boston said, “and then looking at the regulations and saying, ‘How does this compare to what people want, and what are some of the unintended consequences of the way that we’ve set up these regulations?’ And so, if you’re doing it right, you should be setting it up so that you’re creating more winners and fewer losers.”

Boone County and Columbia are paying a combined $86,000 for the study, and the county is using a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to cover the cost.

While the county has not allocated money for implementing the proposals the study might suggest, Boston said the study will focus on cost-effective policies.

“These are going to be things that are hopefully going to have a net impact of a decrease in cost on the development side,” Boston said. “So we’re going to be looking at (current) regulations that are accomplishing a goal, but maybe not accomplishing the goal in the most cost-effective way.”

The survey is open until April 14, and Boston expects to present the full study sometime in the fall.

Harshawn Ratanpal is a senior at the University of Missouri studying journalism and economics. He is the current Print-Audio Convergence Editor, or PACE, for the Missouri News Network focusing on homelessness coverage.
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