Columbia Housing provides update on plans for former Allen Benedict Court property

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Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 9:19 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Plans for the future of the former Allen Benedict Court property in Columbia, which was home to one of the oldest public housing communities in the nation, are coming into focus.

One year ago, Demolition began at Allen Benedict Court, which had been a staple in the community for more than 80 years.

“What it represented and what it meant to so many people is significant,” Yvonda Bean, CEO of the Columbia Housing Authority, said. “Some of Columbia’s most prominent leaders even came through Allen Benedict Court, once resided in Allen Benedict Court.”

In January 2019, two men were found dead inside their apartments as the result of a major gas leak throughout the property. All residents were then forced to leave.

A subsequent city investigation found 869 code violations, including missing carbon monoxide detectors.

Solonda Thompson was among those displaced.

“None of us ever thought that we would come home to not having a home, you know,” she said. “That was truly life-changing and devastating.”

Prayer helped her through that difficult time, and she said it made her appreciate life more.

Thompson spent five weeks in a hotel after she evacuated Allen Benedict Court.

Columbia Housing is now in the process of engaging with the community and stakeholders like Thompson as it works to finalize design plans for what will become of the property.

On Monday, Columbia Housing held a community meeting for people to review the plans and provide feedback.

The project includes more than 350 units, including senior, family, and workforce units.

Bean said the workforce units were added recently through conversations with the surrounding universities, Allen University and Benedict College, in order to provide housing for some of the school’s employees.

Columbia Housing also plans to have plenty of green space at the location.

According to Bean, the design work is preliminary and subject to change.

“For us, we are working diligently to preserve that rich history and make certain that as we move forward, it’s done in a thoughtful and careful way,” she said.

Residents who were displaced in 2019 will be first in line to move into the new development, which is welcome news for Thompson.

“That pulls at my heartstrings because that was my home for 12 and a half years,” she said. “I lived there and I was a part of the community. So yea, you know, ‘Come on home.’ I’m ready to come on home. Y’all want to have me? I want to come.”

To preserve the memories of those who lived at Allen Benedict Court, the housing authority launched a campaign called Allen Benedict Court: Forever in My Heart. This allows former residents to share stories from their time there.

Columbia Housing said the name for the new development has not yet been determined by investors.

“They want to of course make certain that whatever the name is, it’s reflective of the community and represents the community in the way in which the community wants to be represented,” Bean said.

The housing authority hopes to share more information on that front in the coming months, Bean added.

The total cost of the project is expected to be around $88 million.

The construction timeline has been pushed back a bit. Construction is expected to begin at some point after August 2023.

A year ago, Columbia Housing estimated that the units would be move-in ready by December 2024. They are now expected to be complete by August 2025.

Columbia Housing will be hosting another community meeting on Oct. 17 at the Cecil Tillis Training Center at 6 P.M.

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