Bollinger Tower, until recently a senior public housing high-rise, stretches upward at the corner of Buttles and High Street in Columbus' Short North district. The Short North – previously known for urban decay, but now known for art galleries, small businesses, and creative capital - sits between downtown Columbus and the Ohio State University campus along State Route 23 – High Street. The district enjoys public bus lines and vibrant economic growth. Its residential streets are lined with Victorian homes that sell for a median value of 350,000 dollars but can go for upwards of one million dollars. In 2010, The New York Times called the Short North “a neighborhood that is challenging all preconceived notions of what passes for cool in the Midwest.” Among this buzz, Bollinger Tower appears well-kept and urbane.
In early 2017, Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) announced that Bollinger Tower had been sold for 14 million dollars to the Schiff Capital Group in partnership with Cardinal Real Estate. The building had not been advertised as for sale. Prior to 1982, the site at 750 N. High Street housed a seedy joint called the New Francis Hotel. CMHA bought the property, built Bollinger Tower, and in 1985, opened 100 one-bedroom apartments. Until 2010, the location was classified as Section 9 public housing for the poor and disabled - including those with mental health and addiction issues. In 2010, CMHA converted Bollinger Tower to senior (age 62 and older) voucher-based Section 8 public housing. And, in March of this year, CMHA relocated Bollinger Tower's 100 senior residents through the Section 8 voucher program and closed the building.
I went by Bollinger Tower after it closed and met 68-year old Chuck Champlin, who lived in the building for 3 years. Chuck is one of the few who found alternative public senior housing in central Columbus. Many of his friends did not find public housing, moving instead to private housing using Section 8 vouchers.
“They're scattered all over the city. The majority of them used vouchers, and the majority of them – at least the ones I've spoke with – there's a lot of unhappiness,” he says. "They felt like they were, in a sense, kind of rushed out and really didn't get to see or understand where they were moving. So, some of them moved into places that weren't essentially ready for people to live in. They felt as if they just brushed us off. I'm personally happy with where I moved to. But where I live now I call 'em the 'senior seniors'. They're older. And very friendly and very nice."
Columbus Alive journalist Joel Oliphint covered Bollinger Tower in late April. It turns out the housing crisis is not specific to seniors. The waiting list for Section 8 vouchers is current at 17,000 households - and growing.
“Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority has been underfunded for decades now, nd I think there is a direct relationship between that underfunding and the number of people who are on a waiting list for affordable housing in Columbus. And so, this is just one of the examples of what happens when you don't have enough affordable housing to go around.”
Oliphint says that the sale gave CMHA some much-needed revenue, but it also meant they had to find homes for 100 senior citizens.
“To their credit, these 100 senior citizens are also not being booted onto the street. They worked with them every step along the way to find housing for them, so I don't want to overstate the kicking out … They're all being housed. But, they're not being housed in the building that they love, that they call home, in this community that a lot of them have been around for many years.”
Bobbi Garber, the Loaned Executive for the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio says that senior citizens, immigrants, and African-Americans are most affected by the housing crisis. Senior needs are growing because the senior citizen population is growing.
I asked her what she thinks the future of public senior housing looks like in Columbus.
“One of the models that I think folks are figuring out how to make work is affordable assisted living. And, from the Housing Alliance point of view, addressing housing for seniors both through development of service-enriched housing like affordable assisted living or through vouchers or rent assistance – it's a priority, it's in the priority group.”
It's only been a few months since Bollinger Tower closed, and the former residents are still adjusting. With Section 8 vouchers, these seniors are able to move annually if need be.
“You can actually move every year with a tenant-based voucher, so you don't have to reapply. But you do have to be approved for that unit,” says Garber.
“There was a fair amount of people who lived in the building who maybe lived here for 25 plus years," says Chuck Champlin. "And they really became rooted in the neighborhood and everything else. I just hope eventually things will work out for them and they become comfortable where they're at. If not, when their year's lease is up, I hope they're able to take the time and seek out some place that they really think they'll be happy at.”
Madeleine Fix is graduate of WYSO's 2017 Community Voices class. To learn more about Community Voices training, visit: http://wyso.org/community-voices