Delay for demolition of 78-year-old Midlands public housing complex

Delay for demolition of 78-year-old Midlands public housing complex

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There is a holdup for the demolition of the state's oldest public housing complex.

The Columbia Housing Authority, which operates independently of the City of Columbia, is heading the effort to create higher quality homes in a neighborhood off Forest Drive near Providence Hospital.

Gonzales Gardens has a history dating back to 1939 - around 78 years.

Built during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, it's the third oldest public housing complex in the country.  And if all had gone according to plans - some or all of it would have been reduced to rubble by now.

The Housing Authority, along with city leaders, hope to replace the badly outdated brick apartment buildings with $60 million worth of single family homes and rental properties. More than 600 people have been moved out over the last year - relocated mostly to other parts of the Columbia area.

But this year state and federal organizations decided the complex has a significant history - one that needed to be documented before the buildings disappeared. So the Housing Authority and those agencies put the bulldozers on hold.

"This is now the oldest public housing community in South Carolina. So that's why the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of the Interior, Indian Preservation, State Historic Preservation, the local state offices as well as the federal offices, we had a conference call in February and they said let's stop," said Nancy Stoudenmire with the Columbia Housing Authority. "Let's back it up and….take a look at the historical significance of the property."

Stoudenmire now expects demolition to begin late this year.

The historical work will be handled by a consultant just chosen. Meanwhile, other parcels nearby are already getting major upgrades.

Some of a dozen new homes are already up and ready or nearly ready for occupancy in the Lyon Street community. The city will cut the ribbon on that part of the plan on Wednesday.

Mayor Steve Benjamin promises a blend of both upscale and affordable housing.

"We have to make sure we create an environment that someone who's been maintaining a home for 20, 30 years, that they're finally able to realize the economic investment in the home that they've made," Benjamin said. "Secondly, we have to make sure that there are affordable home ownership opportunities and rental opportunities to people all across the spectrum."