16 October 2014

Poindexter Village, a public housing community on the Near East Side of Columbus, was threatened on Friday by illegal demolition activity by Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority ("CMHA"). In a pointed telephone conversation with CMHA Vice President of Business Development, Bryan Brown, City of Columbus Historic Preservation Officer Randy Black ordered the illegal activity to stop. Based on that emergency phone call, CMHA demolition has been temporarily halted.

On Friday, under the guise of asbestos abatement, CMHA began tearing out windows, including sills and lintels of the historic, but now shuttered Poindexter Village public housing community. These actions are in violation of federal regulations which require completion of an historic review before any demolition can take place. This historic review has not been completed. In fact, CMHA demolition work began on the day public comments were due, and before the adoption of a binding Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that would determine what should happen to this historic property.

The premature demolition work puts the historic status of the property at risk – a status that allows favorable private reinvestment in the property through the federal and state historic tax credits. So far, over 240 windows have been stripped, causing an estimated $250,000 in damage to the property. By damaging the buildings, CMHA is stripping nearly $16 million in private investment value from the property.

Chief Baba Shongo, owner of the Wm. H. Thomas Gallery and Near East Area resident who grew up in Poindexter Village, serves as convener of the Poindexter Village History Advisory Group (PVHAG).Chief Baba Shongo, owner of the Wm. H. Thomas Gallery and Near East Area resident who grew up in Poindexter Village, serves as convener of the Poindexter Village History Advisory Group (PVHAG).

"What you are seeing here is no less than cultural genocide. CMHA is are wiping out the most historically and culturally significant history of Black Columbus. You wouldn't bulldoze German Village, but somehow they feel it is appropriate to bulldoze Poindexter Village," says Shongo.

Poindexter Village is the first public housing community in Ohio, opened in 1942 with a ribbon cutting by President Roosevelt. It is eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places, thus, any federally-funded activity is required to go through the historic review process outlined at 36 CFR 800.

For generations Poindexter Village has been a social, cultural, and spiritual home for Columbus residents of African American descent. Built on the site of the Blackberry Patch, named after Columbus civic and political giant Rev. James Preston Poindexter, and made famous by The McArthur Foundation's Genius Award-winning artist Aminah Robinson, Poindexter Village nursed scores of prominent Black Columbusites, including Robinson, Dr. Earl Sherard, engineer John Foster, and Myron Lowrey just to name a few.

CMHA has proposed to demolish the entire 35 building Poindexter complex. This mass demolition is vigorously opposed by the Advisory Group (PVHAG), Columbus Landmarks Foundation, and many others who value the preservation of the collective history of Columbus including the City of Columbus Office of Preservation. PVHAG is a consulting party under the federally-mandated Section 106 historic review process which CMHA is bound by federal law to follow.

Willis Brown, President of the Bronzeville Neighborhood Association says, "this is a blatantly illegal act taken by CMHA in violation of federal law. They were fully aware that the community sentiment is to preserve and restore Poindexter Village. Two weeks ago, they read our draft that specifically opposed moving forward with asbestos abatement prior to completion of the Section 106 process. CMHA tried to sneak through this partial demolition on the very day that the federally-mandated public comments were due. Public comments are to 'avoid, minimize or mitigate the adverse impact' on this historic property."

Community historian Reita Smith, a former resident of Poindexter Village, says "we have a strong and proud history at Poindexter Village. The larger community needs to respect that Poindexter Village has produced generations of leaders and strivers for Columbus: we value Poindexter Village – not just for the architecture, but for the fact that it engendered a real sense of community. Poindexter Village historically had all the strengths of our community, and that is something we should build on. If mismanagement in recent years diminished that, then we need new management – but you don't throw away all the good for past and future generation of Columbus."

Musician, promoter, and former Poindexter resident Steve "Paco" Grier, "the disrespect in this act by CMHA is stunning. We have worked for months with assurances that our voices would be considered. But the day after our comments were submitted, CMHA began to destroy what we are trying to save." Brown says, "this is a slap in the face to Black Columbus and an insult to taxpayers nationwide. Historic renovation of Poindexter Village is eligible for up to 45% of rehabilitation costs in tax credits, which represents approximately $16 million in private investment equity. CMHA is proposing to throw that out and replace it with taxpayer funded grants. To demolish is a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is environmentally unsound, and the fact that they tried to do a sneak demolition on Christmas Eve is evidence that they know this is wrong."

In the past, HUD has required CMHA to try to sell buildings, rather than incur the expense of demolition. This process has led to the successful sale of Poindexter Tower, Lincoln Village, and Merion Square public housing communities at a profit to CMHA, rather than as a demolition expense.

S. Yolanda Adams, M.Ed., author of the highly-acclaimed children's book about Poindexter Village, There is Magic in the Blackberry Patch says, "CMHA correctly says that they are the legal owners of the buildings ... but let's not forget that the taxpayers are funding this activity, and we demand that they not be wasteful with our dollars. This community will not be trampled by a public agency pursuing goals adverse to our interests. This is exactly why so many of us for so long have believed that Council Districts are important – we get overlooked and our voices are not heard – there is nobody to represent us. Poindexter and the Blackberry Patch represented a complete Black community ... it is why we held the 'Comin' Home' festival on Mt. Vernon Avenue for so many years – this is home to Black Columbus, but our politicians don't seem to care."

The PVHAC notes that Champion Middle School and East High School, both immediately adjacent to Poindexter Village, were rehabbed at costs of $12 million and $30 million respectively, within the past three years, but both are operating at half their capacity. "Now you have CMHA coming and taking over 440 families and 1,400 people out of the neighborhood, which just exacerbates the problem of under-populated schools in the Near East that Columbus residents just spent $42 million rebuilding. None of this makes sense. We need MORPC or the Franklin County Commissioners to try to organize our publicly-funded agencies so that we don't have one taxpayer funded agency undermining what another taxpayer funded agency is seeking to accomplish."

"None of those other public housing properties sold by CMHA were historic," Brown says, "but CMHA was willing to sell them, and profited in doing so -- so why should there be any lower standard for Poindexter Village, which has both cultural and historic significance? Save the taxpayers' dollars. If you don't want the buildings, put them on the market and let someone who wants them buy them and redevelop them to a community-sensitive purpose. We will find a private developer who will do the right thing."

The views of the Poindexter Village History Advisory Group were submitted to the City Preservation Officer on December 21st, along with a letter of support from the Coalition for the Responsible and Sustainable Development of the Near East Side. Other leaders submitting comments include the Columbus Landmarks Foundation and preservation consultant Nancy Recchie, of Benjamin D. Rickey & Company.

For More Information, contact Chief Baba Shongo, Convener of the Poindexter Village History Advisory Group at 614-252-7525 or 614-252-2430.