Gregory Perlman is the founder and CEO of GHC Housing Partners which owns 18,000 affordable housing units across the country. He is also the founder of the Perlman Foundation, an organization devoted to helping low-income residents through scholarships, health and wellness services and grants for food, clothing and shelter.
Last summer my company, GHC Housing Partners, purchased Patten Towers, a 100-year old building of great significance in the heart of the great city of Chattanooga.
Over the past nine months we have been focused on improving the quality of operations at the building with an eye towards improving the physical condition of the building and upgrading the social service platform.
On May 28 we experienced a fire that destroyed the entire electrical system. The emergency forced all 241 residents to be evacuated and relocated into temporary housing throughout the city. Since then we have been singularly focused on returning our displaced residents back to their homes.
Thankfully, on June 28 our residents were given permission from the fire marshal to move back into their homes. We deeply sympathize with the hardship and distress our residents endured but it is now time to think about the future. Time to determine what we did wrong, and what we can learn from in order to become a better citizen of Chattanooga.
After the fire we had three immediate priorities:
• First, find adequate care and shelter for the displaced residents. Within three days, we flew in 21 of our social service coordinators from across the country to be with our residents, helping them move into temporary housing and assisting them with their daily needs to lessen the impact of being displaced. Thanks to their hard work, our residents’ needs were personally attended to all the way down to making sure there was fresh food in their refrigerators when they returned to their homes. We especially would like to thank the Red Cross, Salvation Army, East Brainerd Church of Christ, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Goodwill of Chattanooga as well as the City of Chattanooga, Mayor Berke and the other local officials.
• Second, find out what happened and why. The day after the fire we inspected the site and assessed the damage. Despite inspections that were completed one year ago prior to our purchase, we discovered there were some serious electrical problems that could cause even more harm to Patten Towers residents if left unchanged. So, we immediately put together a plan of action to make the Towers safer than ever.
• And safety was priority three. Get residents back in the building as soon as possible and make sure that it remains safe. Since then, our staff has been working nonstop, day and night, to make the repairs necessary to make the building inhabitable. Miller Electric worked non-stop to perform an essential electrical upgrade, replacing the switchgear, in four weeks when every other company said it would take at least eight weeks to complete.
Looking back there are aspects of the situation we should have handled differently, and for that we are truly sorry. While we were in constant communication with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we should have communicated more frequently with local leaders and the public. We thought putting our head down and fixing the problem was the best way to move forward. We were wrong.
We will build a better bridge to the city, the community and to the elected officials while we continue to put our residents first. Keeping this building safe and improving the quality of lives of our residents will continue to be a top priority of ours.
We look forward to building a lasting partnership built on trust with our residents, our neighbors and with the city of Chattanooga.