Oak Towers renovations makes headway in Columbia's affordable housing

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Housing Authority invited the public to view the completed renovations of Oak Towers public housing Tuesday night. 

A project to renovate all 717 affordable housing units in Columbia was introduced in 2012. Oak Towers is the third affordable housing renovation completed in the city. Five more projects are on the way. 

The renovations were made possible through the HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration program, or RAD.Through this program, the Columbia Housing Authority received funding from federal low-income tax credits. 

The two focus points of the Oak Tower apartment renovations included making more apartments ADA accessible and also making the apartments more energy efficient. Other improvements included new floors, cabinets and fresh paint jobs in all 147 units. 

Oak Towers were built almost 50 years ago, making most of the infrastructure outdated. Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus says the renovations were able to improve the comfort of the residents.

"Oak Towers was built before the ADA, so there were no ADA-accesible apartments here. So we were able to create 8 new ADA apartments," Steinhaus said. 

Geothermal technology was installed in order for each unit to be able to control heating and cooling as they pleased. Residents of Oak Tower apartments do not pay utilities so these savings should put more money in taxpayers' wallets. 

Shirley Rose is a resident of Oak Towers and has lived there for almost 15 years. Rose was offered an apartment at Oak Towers at a time when she was almost homeless. She said since her time living in Oak Towers her quality of life has improved.  

She said she is very impressed with the improvements. 

"This air conditioning and this heating is really good," Rose said. "It really cools apartments down or keeps them warm which is really good for these elderly people that live here."

State Representative Kip Kendrick said that while the renovations are a great first step, Columbia is in dire need for more affordable housing.  

Columbia Housing Authority is expecting to complete 597 public housing renovations by Summer 2019. Steinhaus said the next project to complete will be the Bryant Walkway Apartments.