published Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Frustrated Westside Chattanooga residents take to streets over Purpose Built

Gloria Griffith, a Westside resident for over 40 years, speaks at a news conference held outside Renaissance Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. The residents were speaking in opposition to Purpose Built Communities' proposition to revise their community.
Gloria Griffith, a Westside resident for over 40 years, speaks at a news conference held outside Renaissance Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. The residents were speaking in opposition to Purpose Built Communities' proposition to revise their community.
Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse.
IF YOU GO
  • What: The March to Support the Right to Housing

  • When: 5 p.m. today

  • Where: March will start at Renaissance Presbyterian Church, 1211 Boynton Drive, and go to the City Council Building at 1000 Lindsay St.

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  • photo
    Karl Epperson of Chattanooga
    Photo by Leigh Shelle Hunt

Karl Epperson, a 65-year-old disabled veteran, travels in a wheelchair because he can't walk and the pollen outdoors gives him breathing problems.

But he says he won't miss tonight's meeting of the Chattanooga City Council.

"I'll be there," the Westside resident said. "I don't care if they have to take me out on a stretcher."

At stake, according to Epperson, is low-income housing. The Westside is among three low-income areas named as a potential site for the Atlanta-based nonprofit Purpose Built's community revitalization model. The former Maurice Poss Homes land in Alton Park and the Harriet Tubman housing development in East Chattanooga also have been discussed as sites for the proposed mixed-use complex which features homes for several income levels as well as businesses and schools.

Epperson will be among a group of Westside residents and public housing supporters expecting to march from Renaissance Presbyterian Church to the City Council meeting tonight. The march starts at 5 p.m., and the council meeting is at 6 p.m.

Westside residents and Chattanooga's Organized for Action advocacy group collected nearly 1,000 signatures online and by knocking door to door to find residents who support them in their quest to save public housing. The petition demands that the city government work to restore lost public housing and ensure that no more public housing units be destroyed. The petition also demands that all new housing developments in Chattanooga include units for low-income people.

The residents will present the list to the council tonight.

Westside residents said it doesn't help that, already feeling left out of conversations about the Westside being a potential site for the Purpose Built community, they also weren't included in discussions about moving the Bessie Smith Strut from M.L. King Boulevard to the riverfront.

"It's like slapping a tiger with a toothache," said Gloria Griffith, a Westside resident.

Griffith said she'll be participating in tonight's march, which she said is not only to show support for the preservation of public housing, but also to express anger about the relocation of the Strut.

When it comes to the Purpose Built community, Westside residents are concerned that if the amount of public housing is reduced further -- as it was to make room for a Purpose Built community in Atlanta's East Lake Villages, low-income people may not have a place to live.

More than 1,500 people are on the waiting list for public housing in Chattanooga while another 5,000 wait for Section 8 housing.

If any public housing is destroyed to make way for the Purpose Built community, Chattanooga Housing Authority officials have said residents will be relocated to other public housing units or given a housing voucher.

But Westside residents are skeptical.

Less than one-quarter of the people from the defunct Spencer J. McCallie Homes made it back to the revitalized Villages at Alton Park when the new complex was finished in 2005.

And some people who have Section 8 vouchers have said they have difficulty finding landlords to accept them because some vouchers intended to pay a person's rent are only for $400.

Councilman Peter Murphy said the residents are welcome to use the council as a public forum but they would be more effective if they took their protest to the federal government, which has been reducing funding for public housing annually.

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about Yolanda Putman...

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 ...

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