Residents of the Lyon Street Community recently got the kind of investment they say they thought was a long time coming. The city of Columbia broke ground Thursday on the site of one of six new affordable homes that will be built in the coming months on Washington and McDuffie streets.
“This groundbreaking marks a milestone in our efforts to revitalize our neighborhood,” said Marvin Heller, Lyon Street Community Association president. “We are pleased and look forward to additional homes that will appeal to new homeowners of various incomes and ages. The residents in the Lyon Street Community are ready for change.”
The single homes will be built on several lots in the neighborhood and are priced at $118,000 for a single-story floor plan. One home will offer a two-story plan, and is priced at $123,000.
Gloria Saeed, executive director of TN Development Corp., said officials want to appeal young professionals and empty-nesters.
“We want young families who want to be centrally located downtown,” she said.
The city aims to spur interest in the homes and help potential buyers by offering up to $10,000 in down payment assistance through the General Assistance Program.
Affordable housing for the Lyon Street Community is nearly 12 years in the making. Heller, a lifelong resident in the community, said he remembered when the city acquired the land in 2002 with a plan to build new houses within six months.
When that promise was not fulfilled, residents say it put a blight on the neighborhood.
“During that time there was something of a despair,” Heller said. “There once were families and homes there.”
Heller said in his 57 years he has seen the Lyon Street Community go through many hardships, beginning in the 1960s when the University of South Carolina built Carolina Coliseum.
At the time, many residents moved to the northern suburbs, Heller said. Children of older residents who died also gave up properties because of a lack of interest in maintaining them.
But the community also saw an influx of new people who were displaced in the wake of the Coliseum construction. Heller said many of those individuals had to move in with families in the neighborhood.
By the 1980s, the economic crisis and a crack epidemic turned Lyon Street from a safe place where seniors would walk for exercise into a community disconnected from the rest of Columbia and struggling to deal with the rise of gang violence and drugs.
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, said she remembered attending similar groundbreakings throughout Columbia when she first was elected.
Devine said the affordable housing development is the first step toward fulfilling a promise to the community and addressing the problems with the Lyon Street Community from a measured approach.
“Sometime our efforts get disjointed,” Devine said. “As a council, we need to get to the point where we finish what we started.”
According to Devine, part of that means prioritizing the needs of the city and fully enhancing the quality of life in one area versus scattered development across a large district.
City Manager Teresa Wilson told guests at the groundbreaking that the homes were just a start to revitalizing the area. She said the city’s efforts also include public safety and public works partnerships that will use a variety of financial resources, including Community Development Block Grants.
“This is a great project not only for the Lyon Street Community, but also for the city of Columbia. When there is an opportunity to build new homes and provide quality housing for potential homeowners, it is beneficial for both our city and our citizens. I want to commend staff for continuing to find new ways to strengthen our neighborhoods through homeownership,” Wilson said.
The six homes have three bedrooms and at least two bathrooms and include up to 1,475 square feet of space. There are six different exterior designs for the homes, and some will include single-car detached garages.
Local firms Davis Architecture and Metro Dwellings will lead the design and construction of the development. Architect Matt Davis said the homes reflect a craftsman or cottage style design. Contractor Kevin Giles said construction would begin next week and wrap up around December.
Giles said the materials used for the home are a little more expensive but that they pay off in the long run in efficiency. The homes will be ENERGY STAR Version 3 Certified and use materials to reduce energy costs for homeowners. Giles said an energy bill could be as low as $1,200 a year with the upgrades.
Homes will be outfitted with appliance packages to include a washer and dryer, as well as an over-the-range microwave, a kitchen backsplash, cultured marble bathroom countertops and crown molding in the master bedroom and great room. The exterior will consist of hardi-board, architectural shingles, a privacy-fenced backyard and front yard irrigation with centipede sod.
Two houses will be on Washington Street, while four others will be built along McDuffie Street. The homes are funded with $564,775 from the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program.
Davis acknowledged the efforts of Columbia officials to go above and beyond to provide adequate housing.
“They’re building a quality product when the city didn’t have to make sure it was a quality build,” he said.
Heller said he hopes the new homes will attract a diverse group of families and increase homeownership in the Lyon Street neighborhood. Though 91 percent of the Lyon Street Communty is occupied, Heller said, only 18 percent is owner-occupied.
“We’re definitely looking to change that trend,” he said.
Heller said he sees the redevelopment of the Lyon Street Community as an opportunity to break down real and artificial barriers with neighboring communities like Forest Hills, as well as city agencies and the whole of Columbia.
“It’s going to take more than one program,” Heller said. “Everyone who lives here, prays here and works here has to be involved in making these changes.”