COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Columbia City Council picked four new members for the Columbia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.
James Chatfield, Georgia Mjartan, Kara Simmons, and Anne Sinclair were appointed as the new board commissioners on Tuesday.
Chatfield has served as the Chief Lending Officer of the SC Community Loan Fund since April 2018. He is also a certified Economic Development Finance Professional by the National Development Council.
Mjartan has served as the Executive Director of the South Carolina First Steps program, the state’s comprehensive early childhood education initiative, since December 2017. Prior to that, Mjartan led “Our House,” a non-profit based in Arkansas that helped homeless and near-homeless families attain success, for 12 years.
Simmons was a community lead for the Obama Foundation’s Community Leaders Corp here in Columbia. Simmons also serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia College, the Executive Director of the Columbia Bethlehem Community Center, and the Board Chair of the Talented Tenth, which is a non-profit organization founded by Mayor Steve Benjamin. Simmons is also the founder of “No Boys Allowed,” an organization that aims to promote higher education, self-empowerment, and self-awareness to middle and high school and girls of color.
Sinclair has been a partner with Resource Associates, Inc., since 1989. She previously worked for 16 in the mental health and not-for-profit fields. Sinclair also served as a member of the Columbia City Council for 20 years. She is a member of the Columbia Rotary board and served on the board of directors for the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, One Columbia, the Congaree Land Trust, and the McKissick Museum’s Advisory Council. Sinclair also served on the Lexington-Richland Airport Commission including two years as the chair.
Two of the newly appointed commissioners attended Tuesday night's council meeting.
“Clearly, there are challenges very serious challenges, that are affecting children, families, individuals," Mjartan said. "Frankly, that’s why I stepped into this role and it’s very personal to me.”
Mjartan said her daughter attends Carver-Lyon Elementary School, the same school zoned for children who lived at Allen Benedict Court Apartments. She said a moment she witnessed inside the classroom prompted her to get involved and to be part of the solution.
“I walked into her 4-K classroom and saw a 4-year-old little boy asleep in the middle of the classroom exhausted because he had spent the night in the hotel and I watched my daughter’s teacher say, ‘It’s okay sweet boy. You can sleep here,’” she said.
James Chatfield said he can identify with the housing authority’s residents and knows the struggles they can face as a result of their housing situation.
"I grew up part of my life in upstate New York in an affordable housing complex prior to moving to South Carolina and I know the stability afforded to me in a safe, comfortable place to call home is key to everything I've been able to do since then," he said.
Chatfield said he wants to work toward mending the trust that has been fractured between the housing authority and its residents, but said it won't happen overnight.
"It's going to be a battle that's won inches, not necessarily feet or yards so something that's going to take time," he said.
WIS also reached out to Kara Simmons and Anne Sinclair, the other two commissioners appointed by the city council, but has not heard back. A family member of Simmons said she is currently out of the country.
The Columbia Housing Authority also released the following statements shortly after the appointment of the four new board members:
The new members were selected from nearly 40 applicants for the board vacancies that were available.
The new appointments come after two members resigned while two other board members have either seen their term expire or their term will expire soon. Applicants ranged in age from 24 to 88 years old and their backgrounds range from former city council members to members of law enforcement and even a retired HUD employee.
The terms for the new members will begin immediately.
To see more coverage on Allen Benedict Court, click here.