Affordable housing a growing issue in Missouri

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COLUMBIA - With nearly 33,000 Boone County residents living in poverty, Columbia and its Housing Authority are working to provide more low-income housing options.

City Manager Mike Matthes said there are many people in Columbia who are working multiple jobs to provide for their families. 

"24 percent of the people working today in Columbia are classified as underemployed and what that means is they have to work two full time jobs to make ends meet," Matthes said. 

Potential options for providing low-income housing were discussed at a symposium in December.

One strategy would be something called land trusts.

They would allow Columbia to keep a plot of land in the city's name so it can control the sale of the property to  ensure it goes to a family within the proper income level. It would also make sure the price of the property remains affordable.

"The critical piece is that the land remains in the ownership of the trust even though the house is purchased by the purchaser. When the purchaser wants to sell and move somewhere else , they can only sell within a certain range of prices," councilman Ian Thomas said. 

The process is designed to make sure the house is always affordable, preventing owners from selling at the market rate.

Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said, not only does CHA help to place families in affordable homes, it also looks to help them become self sufficient. 

"We also try to help our families develop a long term plan for self sufficiency. So one way to create more affordable housing to help people move up and out of poverty so we can now serve the people that are on our waiting list," Steinhaus said.   

Through the Columbia 2016 strategic plan, the city will aim to create more jobs that provide a livable wage, so families are able to remain self sufficient. New committee member James Whitt said his focus is to work specifically with businesses to create jobs and keep more money in the local economy. 

"If people can earn a higher wage, they can make better decisions about where they live because they can afford to pay a little bit higher rent. When you work a minimum wage job and it's a temporary job, it may not last, so if we can create jobs with a better wage, it'll be a bigger benefit for our community," Whitt said. 

The Columbia Housing Authority serves more than 2,000 households each month and Steinhaus said, over the next two years, it will renovate more than 500 public housing units that haven't been renovated in roughly 50 years.