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Plans underway to revitalize Columbia's two oldest public housing developments

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The last two oldest public housing developments in Columbia could be coming down.

Built in the 1940's, plans are underway to revitalize both Gonzales Gardens and Allen Benedict Court.

The Columbia housing authority has started with focus groups and is developing a plan to turn the communities in a thriving area.

The plans not only include tearing down the units and re-building, but look at the surrounding neighborhood to figure out how to help residents overcome the effects of poverty.

"We have drive-by's, I don't even like for my kids to come outside half the time because I'm scared they will ride through here and start shooting because a bullet doesn't have a name on it," said Toni, a Gonzales Gardens tenant.

Toni has lived in Gonzales Gardens for 9 years.

She and other tenants say they're tired of being surrounded by negativity and crime. But, they're not sure the proposed re-development will help.

"They can change the buildings. They can change how it looks - everything but it's not going to change if they bring in the same people," said Tajia Seabrooks, a Gonzales Gardens tenant.

The plan, so far, calls for a complete overhaul of both Gonzales Gardens and Allen Benedict Court -- similar to the Saxon Homes project several years ago.

"It's obsolete for a lot of reasons - in the design, the fact that it doesn't have central air and heat and isn't accessible for handicap," said Julia Prater with the Columbia housing authority.

Prater said the units need to be updated and the neighborhood.

"The total area as a whole has about a 58 percent poverty rate and that was really the most concentrated poverty area in the city," Prater said.

Prater said they're working with groups to help tenants get jobs.

"People just need to make more steps toward the process of change then the neighborhood would be a better place," Seabrooks said.

The housing authority will submit its plan on July 1 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Then they have to find funding to make the plans a reality.

"The 'people' component is really the most important because you want to help people have the resources to become self-sufficient - not need us anymore," Prater said. "That's the ideal world -- that no one needs public housing anymore."

For more information about the proposed project, visit chacoice.com.

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