COLUMBIA, S.C. — (WLTX) -- Tuesday night the City of Columbia Council appointed four new members for the Columbia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. This comes after two men, Derrick Roper and Calvin Witherspoon Jr. were found dead inside their homes at Allen Benedict Court and 411 residents were displaced.
The four new board members are James Chatfield, Georgia Mjartan, Kara Simmons and Anne Sinclair. These new commissioners all have corporate and community service backgrounds.
They will be taking the seats of Jennifer Rubin, Bessie Watson, Bobby Gist and Alexzena Furgess.
Two of the four new members News19 spoke with after the announcement and they share why they applied to be on the board despite the past several weeks.
"Whether it's a child, whether it's a mother or whether it's an elderly family it's important for us to remember these are our friends, these are our community members," Georgia Mjartan said. "We are them we are all one."
Mjartan is one of the four newly appointed members of the Columbia Housing Authority Commission. She currently serves as the Executive Director of South Carolina First Steps, a state agency that prepares children for success in school. Even with a challenging road ahead she said she felt the need to step up after seeing how this affected some families.
"My daughter goes to Carver Lyon. That is the zoned school for ABC [Allen Benedict Court] and because of the scenes that I saw there, because I walked into her 4-K classroom and saw a little boy asleep in the middle of the classroom exhausted because he spent the night in the hotel," Mjartan said. "And I watched my daughters teacher say to him it's OK sweet guy you can sleep here. Because I saw that, because I saw a 5th grader who was crying out for help because of what he experienced at the sudden need to leave his home I said I want to be a part of the solution."
Now that Mjartan is apart of the commission, her main priority is to listen to those who were affected without losing sight of why she wanted to do this in the first place.
"At the end of the day I know who it benefits, the people like that sweet little four-year-old boy or the fifth grade friend of my daughter, who are struggling right now because of decisions that were made out of their control," Mjartan said. "It's my job to be a voice for people like that"
Her fellow new commissioner James Chatfield knows trust will be the biggest obstacle.
"It's going to be a battle that's won in inches not necessarily in feet or yards," Chatfield said. "So it's something that's going to take time. Anytime trust is fractured it's going to take time to rebuild, but I'm certain we are committed to doing the work to regain the trust of the residents and the city."
Chatfield is the Chief Lending Officer at South Carolina Community Loan Fund, but he said he is no stranger to living in affordable housing.
"I grew up part of my life in Upstate New York in an affordable housing apartment complex prior to moving to South Carolina," Chatfield said. "I know the stability it afforded to me in having a safe comfortable place to call home is key to everything I've been able to do since then. So when this opportunity became available to me it spoke to me very deeply to have that opportunity to play a part in providing that stability to children and families."
Now that the board is complete they will be the ones to decide who replaces current Executive Director Gilbert Walker. he announced he would be retiring June 30th. Chatfield said he wants someone who is going to be able to make tough decisions as well as be a voice for all the residents.