Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Disturbance showed need for cheap housing

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
By  Mark Ferenchik

Hawo Haji, 64, has lived at the Heritage since 2005 and is “happy to be here.” Police used pepper spray to disperse a crowd that gathered on Saturday to sign up for a waiting list to live in the complex.

1,000 gathered just to get spot on waiting list

Managers of a Northeast Side apartment complex are discussing a different application process for subsidized housing after Columbus police resorted to pepper spray to clear a huge crowd that gathered at a nearby church on Saturday morning.

“We don’t want anybody to get hurt,” said Shirley Hughes, the property manager at the Heritage apartments.

Chaos erupted at Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, 2283 Sunbury Rd., as the crowd clamored to be put on a waiting list for the apartments. That shows how much demand there is for inexpensive housing, said Hassan Omar, who leads the Somali Community Association of Ohio.

Most of those who showed up Saturday were Somalis. “We have thousands of people desperately in need,” Omar said.

Tyson Hankins, assistant property manager for the Heritage, 2444 Gatewood Rd., said the need for affordable housing exists statewide. Hughes said she doesn’t know what the new application process will be.

“We’re going to have a meeting to decide what is going to happen,” she said.

The event was scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon. Before long, the crowd swelled to an estimated 1,000 people who wanted to be put on a waiting list for the two-bedroom town-house apartments. Only the first 200 were to be accepted.

The 384-unit Heritage has 18 vacancies.

“It got out of hand,” said Hughes, who added that there were no problems during a similar event in 2009.

She said some people tried to line up as early as Friday night. When she arrived at 6:45 a.m., 200 people already were at the church.

Police call logs said that some people began parking in a neighboring subdivision before 6 a.m. on Saturday, blaring car horns and radios. Later, some people argued with neighbors.

At the church, some in the crowd didn’t listen to security personnel. When some rushed the doors, police pulled out the pepper spray.

A 35-year-old woman who was visiting a cousin at the Heritage yesterday said she went to Saturday’s event but left. “I did not have a chance to sign up,” said the woman, who lives nearby and would not give her name.

She said the units at Heritage are larger and have basements where tenants can hook up washers and dryers.

Hughes estimated that at least 75 percent of the Heritage’s residents are Somali.

Omar said that news of the application process spread quickly through the Somali community. He said many live in overcrowded conditions.

“I have a young lady (who) ... has no place to go. She lost a warehouse job,” Omar said.

Said Waged, who has lived at Heritage for four years, said residents appreciate how quiet the complex is, its proximity to schools and the security that doesn’t exist at other apartment complexes. The complex, once known as Agler Green, underwent a $24 million face-lift close to a decade ago.

Hawo Haji, a resident since 2005, said through her son that maintenance is good and parking is plentiful. “I’m happy to be here,” said Haji, 64.

Napoleon Bell, executive director of the Columbus Community Relations Commission, said he plans to meet with local immigrant and refugee communities and talk about what police officers and firefighters do so they’ll feel more comfortable around them.

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