After two shootings at public housing sites left four men wounded, officials with the Chattanooga Housing Authority have vowed to crack down on crime.
Residents can be evicted in as little as three days if they — or even visitors to their home — commit an offense on CHA property.
And instead of being able to appeal the eviction to the CHA, residents must take their appeals to court.
The crackdown may already be under way. Since Jan. 1, 69 residents have been given eviction notices, according to figures provided Friday by the housing authority. Twenty-one notices were directly related to criminal activity, the CHA said.
An agency representative said Friday she couldn’t determine whether either of those figures was higher or lower than normal, nor could she provide eviction figures from last year.
CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes acknowledged that the agency’s eviction policy — which already included the three-day notice and visitors stipulations — hasn’t always been strictly enforced in the past. Even when it was used, housing officials sometimes made exceptions when residents appealed, he said.
“But we started to see the same people coming back and forth, back and forth, saying, ‘I can’t control Johnny’ or ‘I can’t control my uncle,’” Holmes said. “So now we’re saying if anything happens on your property, you’re going to be held accountable for that. We will not be conducting hearings for you to give us an excuse.”
He said a harder line is necessary now to protect the thousands of residents who live on the public housing sites.
Former College Hill Courts resident association president Doris Conner agreed on the need for stricter enforcement.
“The housing authority has been too lenient,” she said. “A lot of people coming in here are gangbangers, troublemakers, and they don’t care about the person living in the apartment getting kicked out.”
But East Lake Courts resident Dorothy Roberts said public housing police already harass residents when they patrol.
“You can’t sit on your porch because the police is in your yard talking crazy to you,” Roberts said.
The two March shootings that led to the stricter enforcement policy both happened at College Hill Courts.
On March 6, 22-year-old Darrell Paris was shot in the stomach with a 16-gauge sawed-off shotgun inside an apartment. On March 21, 22-year-old Marcel Hawthorne, 20-year-old Eric McMath and 18-year-old Jermichael Powell were shot in what police said was a domestic incident.
Chattanooga police officer Tetzel Tillery, who patrols the East Lake Courts area, said many people who commit crimes in public housing don’t even live there.
“More than half the guys don’t live in the development,” he said. “They have girlfriends or grandmothers who live in the development.”
CHA is too understaffed to monitor who lives in the sites, compared to whose name is on the lease, Tillery said.
Felix Vess, CHA’s chief of public safety, estimated that 75 percent of the crime at public housing sites is committed by nonresidents.
No matter who is committing the crimes, Holmes said, the amount of notice given before eviction will depend on the offense. Any offense involving violence or drugs could now result in just three days’ notice before a resident must vacate, he said.
“What we’re saying is that you signed the lease,” said Holmes. “You are the responsible person for that household so you need to take care of that household and that surrounding property.
“If you can’t do that, then you probably need to find somewhere else to stay.”
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 ...