Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Councilman Sam Davis turned out for a ribbon-cutting ceremony showcasing the renovated Gable Oaks Apartments in the Eau Claire community on Tuesday morning, but they weren’t the only civic dignitaries on hand.
Margaret Campbell, a 46-year resident of the apartment complex and its self-proclaimed mayor and governor, helped the two men wield a gigantic pair of gold scissors to commemorate widespread improvements to the place she’s called home since its 1971 opening.
“It means a lot to me,” said Campbell, who said she’s the complex’s longest living resident. “I’ve seen tenants come and go. I’ve had a great time living out here. I’m not moving. I’m not going anywhere. And they still call me the nosy neighbor, but I tell them that’s what I have a nose for, to smell out all the danger and the trash.”
Civic leaders hope there will be less of both after all 200 units were given new flooring, cabinets and countertops, appliances, lighting and air conditioning and a fresh coat of paint. Building 8, damaged in a fire, was replaced with another eight-unit building.
The sprucing up came after Gable Oaks Affordable Housing LLC responded to a request for proposal through the Columbia Housing Authority and was awarded 140 project-based vouchers, making the property fully subsidized. The program addresses a critical need for affordable housing in the Columbia area, officials said.
“We have been very active in trying to make sure that we put a wide variety of housing – not only just public housing, but affordable housing, housing that we think will be something that will help the community and help the citizens that we try to serve,” said Gilbert Walker, CHA executive director. “We had an application opening about a month ago, and we had 20,000 people to apply in one day – 20,000 to apply in one day for affordable housing.”
The renovations include a new community space complete with Wi-Fi access in a computer room. Supportive services offering computer training and resume-writing classes, health and nutrition and financial literacy programs, and after-school activities will also be available to residents, and the complex’s playground area will get a facelift thanks to an anonymous donor.
“This is important because it’s an investment, and new investment impacts property values,” said Davis, whose district includes Gable Oaks and who said his wife lived there years ago. “ … This has been, I think for all involved, a labor of love in terms of the goal.”
A new manager’s office will include two full-time staff members and a resident service coordinator.
“This is a perfect example of what happens you bring people together around a vision,” Benjamin said. He said the renovated units “are representative of the high-quality housing that every citizen of this community deserves.”