published Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Public housing council created in Chattanooga

George Walker is president of CityWide Resident Council.
George Walker is president of CityWide Resident Council.
AT A GLANCE

What: CityWide Resident Council press conference

Why: To announce formation of resident council and opposition to the demolition of public housing

When: 10 a.m. today

Where: Harriet Tubman housing development

CHA sites that were demolished or vacated

• Spencer J. McCallie Homes: demolished 2001-2003

• Rev. H.J. Johnson Apartments: 2005

• Maurice Poss Homes: 2005

• Harriet Tubman Development: 60 units demolished in 2005

• Fairmount Avenue Apartments: 2010

• Harriet Tubman: vacated for sale in 2013

A door-to-door appeal that began last winter has pulled together public housing and Section 8 residents from across Chattanooga who sought strength in numbers when they saw a threat to the places they call home.

The CityWide Resident Council, which includes residents from six of the housing authority's 15 public housing sites, will host a news conference this morning to announce its organization and plans to oppose any more housing sites being demolished.

"People need to know what you're going to do with their homes," said George Walker, president of the association and one of more than 2,200 local families living in public housing.

The media event will be held at the former Harriet Tubman housing development, the 440-unit housing complex that closed this year.

Since the demolition of Spencer J. McCallie Homes that started in 2001, five public housing sites have been demolished.

Tubman is next to be demolished or sold. CHA vacated Tubman rather than pay an estimated $33 million to repair buildings in the 1950s-60s-era complex.

The city's two largest sites -- East Lake, with 417 units, and College Hill Courts, with 497-- are among five in CHA's 2013 plan scheduled eventually to be demolished or sold, although that might not happen immediately.

The agency said it can't afford the $50 million each needed to the sites, built in the 1940s, up to standard.

Westside residents teamed up with Chattanooga Organized for Action in March to collect signatures from College Hill Courts and East Lake Courts residents on a petition to save public housing. The group had collected nearly 1,000 signatures in April when it asked the council for a unit-per-unit replacement of any public housing destroyed in the future.

Westside residents organized after the nonprofit Purpose Built Communities had said that College Hill Courts might be an appropriate location for a housing model with fewer public units and more market-rate housing.

Yet 1,814 people are on CHA's waiting list for public housing and another 5,000-plus wait for Section 8 housing. The agency's 2013 plan calls for 2,250 families in public housing, down from 3,000 in early 2000.

Willing to talk

CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes said the CityWide council has never spoken with him or Executive Director Betsy McCright and neither is sure who the members are.

Nevertheless, CHA is willing to discuss their ideas, he said.

"If they have something that they want to bring to the table, if they have the resources available to maintain it, we're certainly willing to talk to them," said Holmes.

McCright said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires CHA to accept input from residents if the agency proposes to demolish a site.

CHA had three or four meetings to get input before relocating residents at Tubman, McCright said.

She said it's been at least a year since a citywide resident council organized under the Chattanooga Housing Authority disbanded. Some residents moved away, others lost interest and some died, CHA officials said.

Newly established CityWide members say that their organization is different in that it is not selected by or associated with the housing authority. There are seven members presently, with room for five more appointees from places not currently represented.

More input

The housing agency also has a resident advisory board that meets with housing staff three or four times a year. CHA shares information with the council, and council members are charged with taking the information to residents.

That hasn't happened, said Perrin Lance, co-founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action, a community activist organization that helped residents organize the new council. COA is helping residents organize resident councils at Cromwell Apartments, Emma Wheeler Homes, and other sites.

Even some advisory board residents didn't understand CHA's agency plan well enough to explain it to other residents, and some didn't know they were living in housing listed for eventual demolition, Lance said.

"That's a failure on CHA's part to inform the residents and get them to have a meaningful conversation," he said.

Public housing residents need a voice, he said.

"It is incredibly important for residents to have a say in the governance of their communities," Lance said. "All of the problems that face Chattanooga from poverty to food deserts disproportionately affect those in public housing."

CityWide officers

President: George Walker of Boynton Terrace

Vice-President: Roxann Larson of Dogwood Manor Apartments

Secretary: Irma Harris of Greenwood Terrace

Corresponding Secretary: Lisa Rooks of College Hill Courts

Treasurer: Lonnie Stewart of Mary Walker Towers

Historian: Beulah Washington of Dogwood Manor

Parliamentarian: Karl Kendrick of Gateway Towers

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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