WHAT IT IS: The Columbia Housing Authority, a local public, nonprofit agency, provides subsidized housing and rent vouchers for about 20,000 Midlands-area low-income residents, including the elderly and disabled.
The Housing Authority, one of the oldest housing authorities in the country, was founded in 1934.
Although the authority has the name "Columbia," it is not part of the city of Columbia.
However, its seven board members, called commissioners, are chosen by Columbia City Council. They are: Bobby Gist (chairman), Bessie Watson, Patrick Noble, Kathleen Smith, Arthur Bjontegard Jr., Katheryn Bellfield and James Robertson. Gist has served as chairman for 10 years.
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FEDERAL MONEY: A major recipient of HUD money for the low-income, the Housing Authority in 2009 received $39 million in federal grants, as well as $4.5 million in tenant revenue, according a recent audit. Its local holdings are worth more than $115 million, the audit said.
HOW IT WORKS: In some cases, the Housing Authority - which describes itself as the state's largest landlord - subsidizes rents for people who live in privately owned dwellings; in other cases, the Housing Authority owns the dwellings outright and offers low rents. The authority also helps the low-income buy homes. Each year, the authority takes in more than $40 million and spends about the same.
A small part of the authority's mission involves the federal money - up to $1 million each year - it gets to buy houses on the local market. The authority does not pay local property taxes on those homes. But it does pay a fee in lieu of taxes, authority attorney Tim Rogers said.
SUCCESSES: In recent years, the authority has played a key role in demolishing aging inner-city housing projects, seen by many as breeding grounds for crime. Since 2000, the authority has spent more than $30 million in HUD money on showcase projects: the 166-unit Rosewood Hills on Rosewood Drive, on the former site of Hendley Homes, and the 257-unit Celia Saxon Gardens on Harden Street, formerly Saxon Homes.
INCREASED DEMAND: Because of foreclosures, unemployment and the demolition of older Housing Authority apartment complexes, demand for help has increased.
As of Dec. 31, the Housing Authority had 6,903 applications from low-income residents seeking various types of housing assistance.
Of those, 2,578 - individuals or families - were seeking Section 8 assistance. Section 8 monies are subsidies for rental homes and apartments. Last year, the Housing Authority gave out more than $18 million in federal rental subsidies.
- John Monk