The grass around her home is so high, a snake crawled up her leg while she was hanging clothes, said Earline Studmire, who lives at the Emma Wheeler Homes public housing development in Alton Park.
“I was scared,” she said. “I’m glad it didn’t bite me. They need to cut the grass more often.”
Ms. Studmire blamed recent employee layoffs at the Chattanooga Housing Authority for what she called a lack of maintenance around the development.
Housing authority officials said a recent round of employee layoffs shouldn’t affect residents, but more than half of the 30 Chattanooga Housing Authority employees who were laid off worked at public housing sites or were maintenance staff, according to a CHA document.
“In two years, we’ve had three managers,” said Emma Wheeler resident Brenda Davis.
This week, the authority laid off 30 employees in a budget-cutting move. It also laid off 24 employees in February, records show.
Ms. Davis said so many staff turnovers make it difficult for residents and staff personnel to get to know each other and make it more difficult to residents to get their needs met.
“You get comfortable with one manager and tell that one your situation, but the new person doesn’t know you,” she said. “It can affect residents.”
All three of the community service representatives who worked at Emma Wheeler lost their jobs this month. Such representatives are responsible for collecting rent from residents, doing housekeeping inspections, reviewing lease agreements and handling enforcement issues. A community service representative also helps residents who are having trouble paying their rent by connecting them with appropriate social service agencies, said Betsy McCright, CHA’s interim executive director.
Housing authority board chairman, Eddie Holmes, said current CHA employees are filling in as community service representatives at Emma Wheeler Homes.
The layoffs come weeks after housing authority officials became aware of a $4.5 million budget shortfall that includes $1.3 million in what Ms. McCright termed “unauthorized borrowings.” Since then, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has said it now must approve any Chattanooga Housing Authority plan to spend federal money.
The authority also has submitted a plan to HUD for corrective action on the budget shortfall including laying off 50 employees since February, selling commercial and vacant lot properties, reducing contract services and ceasing employer contributions to workers’ pensions.
Bob Dull, the housing authority’s executive director, and Kari Blakney, the chief financial officer, have resigned, authority officials said.
Mr. Holmes said the layoffs were a matter of economics.
“We had X number of dollars to pay X number of people, and that was the determining factor,” he said.
The layoffs are expected to save the authority about $1.6 million a year.
Employees at housing sites and maintenance staff account for 18 of the 30 people who were laid off, according to the CHA document indicating positions taken off the payroll. Among the other layoffs are the former site manager at the Gateway Towers development site and nine maintenance service technicians, the document states.
The computer labs at East Lake Courts, Cromwell Apartments and at the James A. Henry Resource Center also have been closed because there are no staff members available to operate them, officials said.
Housing authority officials are seeking grants and other partnerships to restaff the computer labs, said Cheryl Marsh, CHA’s public information coordinator.
The employee cuts leave the housing authority with one resident office administrator for every 100 households and with one maintenance staff member for every 50 households, Ms. McCright said.
THE STORY SO FAR
Feb. 29 — In an attempt to balance its budget after HUD funding cuts, CHA lays off 24 people, about 10 percent of its staff.
May 15 — Despite the first work force reduction, a financial expert’s review of CHA’s finances shows the housing authority had a $4.5 million shortfall and also had to pay back $1.3 million in “unauthorized borrowings.” CHA lays off another 30 employees. Bob Dull, CHA’s executive director, also resigns.
May 21 — CHA officials call a special board meeting at which board members review and approve a draft budget and reorganization strategy that was sent to HUD. The draft gives CHA’s plan for correcting its budget problem, which includes the layoffs, reducing CHA’s contribution to employees’ retirement plans, selling property and reducing contract services.
To handle on-site maintenance since the layoffs, housing authority officials are using employees in other positions who have maintenance skills to do the work, she said. Some staff members who previously worked in the CHA central office now are community service managers and representatives, she said.
Some public housing residents said they’ve been feeling the effects since the February layoffs.
The gymnasium at Emma Wheeler Homes has been closed for three months and opens only for resident meetings, said Ms. Studmire, who lives near it.
Instead of going to the gym, young people gather in front of the mailboxes on Jeffrey Lane, she said. At night there is loud music and fighting, she said.
“That’s why the kids are going to jail,” she said. “There is nothing for them to do.”
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...