Former LaBelle Terrace could be transformed into gated community

EAST LIVERPOOL — Capital improvement projects being considered by the Columbiana-Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) include transforming the Woodland Hills (formerly LaBelle Terrace) housing complex into a gated community.

Executive Director Bernie Bennett told the CMHA board during its meeting this week that he is applying for a Safety and Security grant that could be used for gates, fencing, lighting and cameras to make the transformation.

Up to $225,000 in funding is available, and the only thing the grant won’t pay for is personnel, Bennett said.

“We have undesirable people coming in there, selling drugs, using (apartments) as flop houses. Our goal is to make it a gated community. Not just the wealthy should live in gated communities. I can’t think that a drug dealer wants to show a license or ID every time he comes in,” Bennett told the board.

The deadline for applying for the funding is March 4, and Bennett said he should know by early summer if the CMHA was successful in securing the grant.

In other capital improvement news, Bennett reported work is progressing now on projects that were projected in 2012 through 2014, including replacement of handrails at Woodland Hills.

He posed the rhetorical question to the board, “How much could that be for 125 units?” preparing members for what he said would be a surprising answer.

“We will have over $400,000 in them,” Bennett said of the railings, which had to be replaced to bring the buildings, built in 1972, up to current state code.

Complete bathroom remodels are planned for the spring at Woodland Hills, Bennett reported, saying CMHA once received $800,000 annually for capital projects but that funding has now been cut to about $500,000 per year.

An assessment done for Woodland Hills indicated $1.2 million in capital improvements need done, he said.

Bennett also reported that the agency currently has a 99.1 percent occupancy rate, with only four of its 479 units vacant. In addition to its housing complexes, the CMHA operates 46 scattered housing units.

He said there are currently 35 people on a waiting list for housing.

Bennett said county commissioner received a complaint that an apartment at the Fawcett Apartments had not been properly cleaned for a bed bug infestation following the death of the previous resident before a new tenant was allowed to move in.

“I let (commissioners) know that was untrue. The reality is, no one went in (that unit) until just this month,” he said, adding that a hazmat team had to be brought in to treat the unit due to the bed bug and roach issues and that it sat vacant for seven weeks.

Although the CMHA partners with county commissioners, there is no oversight on operations from them, Bennett said.

He extended an invitation to commissioners to join him and the board members on a tour of CMHA properties that is being planned for later this year.