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Affordable Housing Symposium Discusses Homelessness in Columbia

The Columbia City Council originally passed a measure in February declaring some parts of the city "blighted."
The Columbia City Council originally passed a measure in February declaring some parts of the city "blighted."

The 2015 Affordable Housing Symposium main event was the World Café Thursday evening with community members and organizations from Columbia and Mid-Missouri invited to discuss current and future affordable housing in Columbia. 

Other sessions included discussions on current housing needs, construction costs, financing, solutions, and poverty. They also included presentations from several groups and organizations including the Columbia Housing Authority, the City of Columbia, Central Missouri Community Action, the Central Missouri Development Council, and Service for Independent Living.

At the World Café, attendees could provide input on four relevant topics related to affordable housing, including problems, myths/education, impact, and solutions.

“It’s basically kind of a brainstorming session to get a feel for how the community feels about it,” said Bill Cantin, Neighborhood Communications Coordinator for the Columbia Community Development Department. “And then we’ll take that information later, and compile it, and ultimately coming up with strategies and how to address issues of affordable housing here in Columbia.”

According to the City of Columbia, the need for affordable housing in the city has grown due to an increase in gross median rent from 2010 to 2013 and Columbia maintaining a high level of cost for renters in comparison to cities of similar size.  

With 57 percent of renters and 22.5 percent of owners in Columbia housing being cost-burdened or spending more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing, organizers of the symposium hope the event can begin to address what many see as a growing issue in Columbia.

“There’s data that supports it’s a need,” said Randy Coles, Housing Program Supervisor for the City of Columbia. “It’s an important need we need to meet. Whenever we stabilize households it improves child performance at school. It improves our neighborhoods. It strengthens neighborhoods. It strengthens our community.”

Coles said that although towns similar to Columbia’s size have seen similar challenges, Columbia is on the higher side of the trend. Cantin says a large part of this is the growing gap between more affluent Columbia residents and a significant part of the community who is not.

“Everybody deserves to have a safe affordable place to live and for a lot of folks, they’re cost-burdened to a point where it’s hard for them to either find housing or to afford it and it makes it difficult for them to make ends meet,” said Cantin.

Cantin says he hopes community members become engaged and continue to work on solving this issue.

The symposium concluded Friday morning with an action planning session and further discussions on affordable housing. Though there are currently no plans for a future symposium, Cantin says the City of Columbia will continue working on ways to address affordable housing.