Columbia City leadership looking to feds for help on tenants rights

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Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 7:43 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A Columbia City Council Committee is hoping to jump-start conversations with the federal government to protect the rights of renters.

The Administrative Policy Committee met Tuesday to discuss a “Tenant’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” in the aftermath of high-profile tenants rights issues over the past year.

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The committee is chaired by Councilman Ed McDowell and includes Councilmembers Aditi Bussells and Peter Brown.

McDowell and Bussells began the conversation by conceding subsidized housing renters in Columbia are already provided information akin to a tenant’s bill of rights, rendering the potential ordinance redundant. However, there was discussion of an informational campaign.

The committee ultimately instructed staff to arrange a conversation with local U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) leadership about information sharing, enforcement and follow-through.

Mayor Daniel Rickenmann spoke at the meeting, stating the enforcement of rights from HUD has been a missing piece in recent months.

“I’m getting phone calls all the time and there’s no resolve on the other side, so what is our mechanism as a city, with HUD and others to make sure these tenants rights are actually being taken up and they’re getting the support. That’s my fear, is all of this sounds great about publicizing and getting but where’s the action on the backside? We haven’t seen that yet,” he said.

Rickenmann has been a vocal critic of HUD this year.

HUD threatened to withdraw funding from the Colony Apartments over apartment conditions in the fall-out of December’s evacuation. However, HUD ultimately backed down after reassessing the property.

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Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said local HUD leadership previously made itsself available to the city during the Colony Apartment fall-out. Howevever, she said staff turnover has gotten in the way.

“I would just suggest that we take her up and hold them accountable for doing what they said they do, now that’s incumbent on me and staff,” Wilson said.

Brown said the goal is to have a conversation with HUD at the next committee meeting. SC Housing also helps monitor some subsidized homes. A spokesperson sent a statement reading in part:

Regarding complaints, if residents of an SC Housing monitored development notice deficiencies in their units or the development overall, they are urged to contact SC Housing’s compliance department at (803) 896-9007. All reports received trigger SC Housing intervention on a case by case basis. Each complaint is investigated by SC Housing and tracked through resolution. The complainant is notified by SC Housing of the outcome.

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