COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - An attorney for two former tenants of Allen Benedict Court apartments is calling the Columbia Housing Authority a “slum lord,” as the agency grapples in the fallout of two men found dead in their apartments in late January.
Their deaths ruled the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The property was shut down more than a month ago after the fire department found levels of natural gas and carbon monoxide within each of the property’s 26 buildings.
The housing authority is facing five lawsuits, one of which is being brought on behalf of a husband and wife who lived at the apartments. Attorney Hemphill Pride II called the agency a “slum lord.”
"The city of Columbia is supposed to be opposed to slum landlords," Pride said. "How could they let the Columbia Housing Authority become a slum landlord?"
Pride also said the housing authority board should suspend Executive Director Gilbert Walker until the investigation being spearheaded by the Columbia Police Department is complete.
A new document reveals a discrepancy between a recent assessment score and the data needed to arrive at that score. According to the authority's website, it has a set of "five-year goals" in which it provides an annual update about how the agency is working toward achieving each individual goal. One of those goals is listed as "maintaining a high performing status on the SEMAP score."
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, SEMAP stands for Section Eight Management Assessment Program, which measures the performance of authorities that administer the housing choice voucher program.
Among other high scores in recent years, in 2017 the Columbia Housing Authority scored a 100 percent. HUD standards point to audits as well as 14 indicators that are used to determine a housing authority’s overall score. Two of those indicators are listed as “correct calculation of the tenant share of the rent and the housing assistance payment” and “ensuring units comply with housing quality standards.”
However, a look over the agency’s 2017 financial audit reveals the agency was found to be non-compliant in both of those areas, including errors in rent and income calculations and several non-working smoke detectors.
The discrepancies are important, as calculations of tenant income and rent directly impact how much federal money the housing authority receives from HUD on an annual basis.
Pride said as a child, he remembers playing on the playground at Allen Benedict Court apartments, as he said it was the only place during segregation that a black child could play.
“It’s a damn shame what it has become,” he said. “It went from a project of pride to a project of slum.”