published Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

VIDEO: Chattanooga City Council hears public housing report

Members of the public listen to a council meeting about public housing in the Chattanooga City Council chamber Tuesday.  The meeting arose out of community concerns over plans to construct a Purpose Built Community in Chattanooga.
Members of the public listen to a council meeting about public housing in the Chattanooga City Council chamber Tuesday. The meeting arose out of community concerns over plans to construct a Purpose Built Community in Chattanooga.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
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  • Chattanooga City Council hears state of public housing
    During an informational meeting on the state of Chattanooga's public housing, Betsy McCright, executive director of Chattanooga Housing Authority, briefly spoke about the possibility of having Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta non profit, build a mixed income development in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga Housing Authority presentation
Chattanooga Housing Authority presentation
'Petition to Save Our Homes'
'Petition to Save Our Homes'

Chattanooga's public housing of tomorrow won't look anything like it does today, City Council members were told Tuesday.

"The dollars that are usually designated for bricks and mortar are tumbling down," said Betsy McCright, Chattanooga Housing Authority's executive director.

In 2012, CHA is receiving $3.3 million in federal funds, a 7 percent decrease from 2011 and a 14 percent decrease in funding from 2010, McCright said during an hourlong presentation to City Council members.

It was the first time the City Council had requested a state of public housing report since at least 2007 when she arrived at the housing authority, McCright said.

Officials from the advocacy group Chattanooga Organized for Action said the council's request stemmed from Westside residents demanding more information about the future of public housing. The Westside, the dilapidated Harriet Tubman complex and the vacant land at the former Maurice Poss Homes are among the sites being considered for a new development proposed by Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that uses a mixed-use model of housing, schools and businesses to revitalize communities.

Less-densely populated communities are replacing former huge public housing sites.

For example in 2003, the 275 units of the Villages at Alton Park replaced the former Spencer J. McCallie Homes, which had about 600 units.

CHA's current housing stock needs $100 million in repairs, authority officials have said.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Rev. Leroy Griffith, a Westside resident, took issue with paying money to private landlords -- in the form of housing vouchers -- to house low-income residents instead of using the money to repair public housing.

He also said that, as the housing authority gets grant funding to build new developments, it also should work harder and petition the state Legislature to pay for repairs at established public housing sites.

McCright told council members that the housing authority has been trying to find alternative funding options as federal funding dwindles.

"We, the housing authority, cannot just sit back and wait for some magical bundle of money to fall from the sky," she said.

Low-income tax credits, American Reinvestment and Recovery grants and more energy-efficient, money-saving appliances in housing are among the options CHA has considered to help pay for low-income housing.

But the authority also is considering Purpose Built's proposal, she said.

"We're looking at it. We must look at it," she said. "Have all of our questions been answered? No. Have we made any commitments? No."

No officials from Purpose Built were at Tuesday's meeting.

Some CHA officials said they'd like to see IRS tax forms from Purpose Built just to get an idea of its financial status and spending.

Though Purpose Built Communities is registered as a for-profit company with the Georgia secretary of state in 2008, a similarly named nonprofit incorporated on Dec. 15, 2011, so no IRS form 990 filings -- which would contain the nonprofit's financial statements -- are publicly available yet.

Last year, a separate company called Purpose Built Communities Network Member Loan Fund was also formed, records show.

The registered agent is the same for all three entities.

Several Westside residents and Chattanooga Organized for Action supporters have expressed opposition to Purpose Built because the group's proposal reduces the actual number of public housing units at a time when 1,449 people already are on the waiting list for such housing.

On Saturday, Westside residents and Chattanooga Organized for Action led a "Westside is not for sale" campaign that generated about 200 signatures on a petition requesting that, for every public housing unit torn down, another public housing unit be built.

Karl Epperson, a 65-year-old disabled Westside resident who lives on $767 a month in Social Security, said he can't afford to live anywhere else if he is displaced.

"There are not a lot of people in this city that could live on that," he said. "Surely you couldn't live on it without affordable housing. That's what stirred me up. We're seeing less and less affordable housing."

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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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