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Columbia looking to vacant lots to help solve affordable housing issue


The City of Columbia is looking to transform vacant lots to help solve the city's affordable housing issue.

City leaders are attending a Vacant Property Leadership Institute in Austin, Texas, this week to get information on what can be done with the city's vacant lots. Columbia Neighborhood Services Manager Leigh Kottwitz - who is on this week's trip -- said there are around 200 vacant lots and buildings in the central and northeastern parts of Columbia.

She said vacant lots aren't productive for the city, and provide an opportunity to change and benefit neighborhoods.

"What could be done to encourage redevelopment in those areas, so we can bring those back to productive use and also provide productive housing units for our residents," Kottwitz said.

She said mapping out the vacant lot locations and determining their impact on the city will likely be one of the next steps after leaders return from the conference. She also mentioned plans for how to tackle the city's vacant lots will be presented to Columbia City Council and the city manager soon.

Kottwitz said some ideas being discussed this week include code enforcement and land banks. Columbia Housing Authority CEO Randy Cole said he's also heard innovative presentations on estate planning and making sure families keep ownership of their properties.

The Columbia Housing Authority is currently partnering with Job Point to build an affordable home on a vacant lot on Lynn Street. The house will be built by Job Point's Youth Build students and funded by the Housing Authority and donations, according to a Tuesday release.

"When there's vacant properties in our central city area, they represent really good opportunities for affordable housing," Cole said.

Job Point President and CEO Steven Smith said the home will cost more than $200,000 to build, but will be listed for well-below that.

He said Job Build has done more than 20 housing projects and is always looking for avenues to enhance students' skills and help them get or maintain jobs. He said it's icing on the cake that this project will help with Columbia's affordable housing issue.

"We think by the two entities coming together to work on projects, it really ties the workforce development and the affordable housing all in one nice, happy bow," Smith said.

The press release said the home will likely be available for purchase in mid to late 2024. Job Point has already broken ground, but there will be a ribbon cutting Nov. 14. Columbia Housing Authority's Family Self-Sufficiency program residents will be eligible to purchase the home.

Columbia was one of 10 cities to attend this week's training in Texas, according to a press release. Kottwitz and Cole were among five Columbia attendees, including city prosecutor Robert Rinck, city council member Nick Knoth and Love Columbia program director Conrad Hake.

The training ends Friday.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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