The Columbia Housing Authority has been in the hot seat the past 2 weeks after 2 residents died and hundreds more had to leave their homes after the Columbia Fire Department found multiple apartments at Allen Benedict Court with gas leaks.
The housing authority held a meeting Thursday to update the public and media on the current situation for residents and the property.
After meeting behind closed doors for more than 2 hours the board called for an independent investigation into the situation at Allen Benedict Court.
The board room at the was crowded as residents waited anxiously to hear what the next steps are.
“I know i speak for everyone here and the city of Columbia that we are devastated and sorry for these deaths and displacement that have occurred. We apologize to all of the residents for what has happened,” attorney for CHA Bob Coble told the crowd.
Coble announced during the meeting that at least 1 lawsuit has been filed against the housing authority. Those who live in properties managed by c-h-a say they showed up to the meeting demanding change, citing problems at other housing properties.
Geneva Dean explained how her complex has seen issues since the 2015 flood.
“All 50 apartments have water issues with their windows. Water slides down the wall. It’s absorbed and it goes into the apartment creating mold and mildew. The sheetrock gets soft and it falls.”
The board says it has been trying to secure federal funding for the demolition and rebuilding of Allen Benedict Court, including most recently in November for $30 million. So far none of those requests have been approved.
The director of CHA Gilbert Walker explained, “This the 7th time with the grant that’s in now that we have applied for and I think that needs to be said so people can understand specifically what has happened over the years and what we have been trying to do over the years. ”
The authority is working with 8 hotels for temporary housing for the residents and all residents have received extended bus passes to help with transportation needs. The next step is finding permanent housing for the more than 400 residents who had to suddenly leave their homes.
Bob Coble tried to reassure the crowd that the housing authority is working diligently to address everyone’s needs.
“This is a very serious matter with personal devastation and hardship for those who have been impacted and certainly legal issues as well.”
The Columbia Police Department is looking into those two deaths and code enforcement violations.
Bob coble also announced the families of the two victims Derrick Roper and Calvin Witherspoon have also hired representation.
The housing authority has been working to make sure all units within the authority’s jurisdiction have carbon monoxide detectors. The Richland County coroner identified the cause of death for those two residents as carbon monoxide poisoning.
The board will meet again February 5th to narrow down what agency will conduct that independent investigation.