The executive director and two program directors have been dismissed from a group put together almost a decade ago to help lead the redevelopment of the Near East Side neighborhood near Ohio State University East Hospital.
David Cofer, who has led the nonprofit Partners Achieving Community Transformation for two years, lost his job last week along with the two others because of funding cuts. The group is a collaboration of the city of Columbus, Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and Ohio State. The university is now running the group’s operations.
Each of the three partners have been contributing $250,000 to the group’s operations. But only Ohio State will continue to do that now.
The housing authority will make a decision on how much it may fund after this year, said Bob Bitzenhofer, CMHA’s assistant vice president for planning and development and a board member of the collaborative.
“I think each of the partners and CMHA individually understood as we moved through this experience that the relationship among the parties would be evolving as things change,” Bitzenhofer said.
Steve Schoeny, Columbus development director and another board member, said the Columbus City Council should vote to give the group $200,000 by the end of July. That money would go to unspecified projects.
Schoeny said the reduction in funding and move away from operations is not because the city was concerned about the collaborative’s direction.
“We’ve been encouraging folks to think about that neighborhood for a long time, and that’s not going to stop,” he said.
Cofer, who was hired on Jan. 1, 2017, was paid about $132,804. He declined to talk to the Dispatch, referring questions to Ohio State. The program managers were Tuhru Derden and David Foust.
In an email, the group cited accomplishments such as the housing authority’s redevelopment of the former Poindexter Village public housing complex, with 450 units of mixed-income senior and family homes, and new single-family homes coming from affordable, nonprofit developer Homeport, with construction to begin this year.
But Kathleen Bailey, who leads the Near East Area Commission, is worried that this new direction will erode community influence as to how the neighborhood develops.
She said that while the group accomplished some things, she said its mission at times wasn’t clear.
Calvin Hairston, an area resident who fought against the demolition of the Poindexter Village public housing complex and who has had concerns about the collaborative’s direction in the past, said in an email that the group and community are now at a crossroads.
In an emailed statement, Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said the university is proud of the group’s accomplishments and remains committed to the Near East Side.
“PACT will remain a university affiliated entity, and Ohio State will maintain PACT’s office on Taylor Avenue and continue to administer and develop programs like Health Sciences Academies, Ohio State Employee Homeownership Incentive, and PACT Exterior Repair Grant program,” he said in the email. The Health Services Academies serves the Near East Side and incorporates medical and health sciences at East High School, Champion Middle School and feeder elementary schools.
Autumn Glover, Ohio State’s government affairs and community relations consultant for Ohio State and the Wexner Medical Center, said Campus Partners, Ohio State’s nonprofit development arm, will provide support.
“Our goals remain steadfast,” Glover said. “We think the community has seen a lot of positive movement.”