The Columbia Housing Authority updated Columbia City Council on its comprehensive homeless service center plan during Monday’s regular council meeting.
The plan, which has been in the works for six months, includes the authority’s Opportunity campus and its plan for a permanent supportive housing project on Park Avenue.
The Opportunity Campus plan would develop a resource center and permanent space for collaboration from Room at the Inn, Turning Point, Voluntary Action Center (VAC), and Loaves and Fishes. Each of these groups supports homeless single adults, a group identified as needing additional support by the city’s initial RFP for the Opportunity campus.
The proposed 75-bed low-barrier shelter, which could expand to 100 beds, would also provide food, mail services, showers, laundry, toilets, internet and other support services that would allow people to stabilize, including pathways to permanent housing support, according to the presentation.
This would create a permanent, year-round location for Room at the Inn, which would provide overnight shelter 365 days a year, as well as resource centers for Turning Point and VAC. Loaves and Fishes would provide meals on site.
“We know that in order for people to get off the streets, to get a better position in life, to get better housing, they need support services,” said Randy Cole, CEO of the Columbia Housing Authority (CHA). . “If we don’t have enough support services, people can fall back into homelessness and be prevented from getting housing at market prices.
Cole said Opportunity Campus would be “the hub to bring more of these support services together.”
Since its last report in late July, the collaborative group working on the Opportunity campus has met several times a month to review existing data on homelessness in Colombia and determine what services to provide and how to provide them, Cole said during the presentation.
The group conducted extensive public outreach across the city, including populations served by CHA and homeless encampments, to determine what services should be provided to best increase community capacity to support adults. homeless singles, he said.
They traveled to visit and tour homeless service facilities in other communities. They identified properties to use and created operational and financial plans.
Cole also presented CHA’s plan for the permanent Park Avenue supportive housing project. He said the property currently holds 70 units, which they hope to rebuild to hold 79, 22 of which will be for homeless single adults.
“We need to expand our footprint as a community in terms of more affordable housing,” Cole said. The first step, he said, is to make sure the city preserves what it already has. The Park Avenue property is the oldest affordable housing in town in our community, he said.
Based on public feedback obtained from on-site residents, CHA hopes to implement new energy-efficient housing, including community garden space, a facility for programming and services, and expand local support service providers. with whom they work. He said the only negative comment they received from current residents was “why hasn’t this happened yet”.
For the Park Avenue project, Cole said the CHA will use some of its private equity, but will also seek $2 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, $5 million from the ARPA bucket from the county and $12 million to the state.
Cole suggested council pass an amendment to ensure the property is closed and properly zoned, to ensure funding mechanisms are in place, to further refine the management structure, and to ensure the city is committed to financially support the projects in the years to come.
Cole also asked the city to allow CHA to hire additional staff, since the authority is currently operating at 84% of what it needs to staff the Section Eight program, Cole said.
First Ward Council Member Pat Fowler expressed appreciation for Cole and CHA’s dedication to addressing housing and homelessness issues, which have been particularly relevant to his constituency and have received immense public engagement at course of the last year.
She also asked if the plans conflicted with a state law passed in late June that requires police to impose a ban on homeless people sleeping in public, according to previous Missourian reports. Communities that do not comply with the law could jeopardize any state funding they receive for homeless services and programs.
Although Cole isn’t sure if there will be a problem, Councilwoman Nancy Thompson said the city will be fine as long as it doesn’t adopt a policy preventing police from enforcing the ban.
“As long as we’re careful how we behave, we’ll be fine,” Thompson said, though she clarified that she still awaits further direction from the state in the future.
Fourth Ward council member Nick Foster asked if Opportunity Campus’ focus on homeless single adults would hinder families’ ability to get help.
Cole pointed to services like Love Columbia and Salvation Army Harbor House, which are geared more towards families.
City staff comments on the recommendations must be returned to the CHA by August 31 and a final report will be submitted by September 30.
The Broadband Business Planning Working Group discussed improving and expanding Internet access in Colombia during Monday’s pre-council working session. Andy Wyatt, grants administrator for the city, identified and presented two broadband grant opportunities to council.
The grants are the Missouri Broadband Infrastructure Grant, which has a budget of $100,000 to $10 million over a four-year project period, and the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant, which has a budget of $5 to $100 million. million dollars over a five-year project period. years and a 30% cost-share match.
The city’s deadline to submit applications for each grant is September 29 and 30, respectively.
The city should partner with a service provider to successfully submit broadband grant applications before the deadline, according to the discussion.
Mayor Barbara Buffaloe and City Manager De’Carlon Seewood have expressed doubts about the success of the grant applications and the city’s eligibility for the funds, as there is currently no data available for the city that shows the areas requiring broadband, Seewood said.
“We have to go ahead and try. We should pick a partner that we think would work well for us and give it a try,” board member Betsy Peters said.
EquipmentShare presented its Chapter 100 tax abatement application to the board during the pre-board business session. The company intends to build a corporate campus across from Interstate 70 and create new jobs in Colombia. EquipmentShare is asking for a 75% reduction in personal property taxes on their investment in building this project.
Buffaloe expressed excitement about the project’s potential to provide new jobs and retain high school and college graduates in Colombia.
Fowler said she is not in favor of the project until a performance agreement is available for review “to find out how beneficial this project will be for vulnerable members of the community.”
Council heard a report from city staff regarding the expansion of virtual attendance at council and commission meetings. The council voted in June to extend the virtual attendance trial program for the Disabled Persons Commission, which asked all councils and commissions to allow virtual attendance.
The cost of the virtual attendance program was estimated to be around $40,860 “due to multiple staff serving on multiple boards,” said Mark Neckerman, the city’s acting chief information officer.
He added that conference room equipment is expected to cost around $33,500 and money could be saved by moving some meetings to the boardroom.
Fowler and Buffaloe raised concerns less about expense and more about accessibility versus time.
“How do we move from a place where we don’t reduce the attendance of our residents or community members to working days? Fowler asked. “How do we expand that so that these councils and commissions can operate at a time when their members can attend, and the public can attend?”
Buffaloe called for the staffing plan to move forward, and Neckerman said the next step is to purchase Zoom licenses for council and commission staffers.
“So one of the things we’re going to come up with is a budget amendment for purchasing a license and a budget amendment,” Neckerman said.
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