published Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Patten Towers fire reveals a mess in need of repairs

Relocated Patten Towers residents settle in at the Brainerd Recreation Complex being operated by the Red Cross after an electrical fire Tuesday night forced 241 residents to be evacuated.
Relocated Patten Towers residents settle in at the Brainerd Recreation Complex being operated by the Red Cross after an electrical fire Tuesday night forced 241 residents to be evacuated.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Patten Towers may finally be getting the attention it should have had years ago.

It took a large fire in the basement that decimated the 1906 building's electrical switch-box, which apparently had not been updated enough in recent decades to handle ordinary appliances such as microwaves and coffee makers.

And it took a pressing need to find long-term shelter for the 241 residents who were evacuated Tuesday night from the 11-story federally subsidized hotel-turned-apartment-building.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and the facilities manager of PK Management, Patten Towers' owner, said Friday that fire repairs will take six to eight more weeks.

"It's a 100-year old building," said PK Management Facilities Director Joe Conti. "We may need to get more power to the building."

PK Management has owned the building less than a year, but in that time it has installed a new air conditioning tower, as well as more efficient windows, he said.

In the meantime, the company, which specializes in Section 8 affordable housing properties and low-income housing tax credit properties nationwide, will have 10 social workers here this weekend to work with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to find long-term housing solutions for the now-homeless residents.

Now, new problems have emerged for the future of the building, a linchpin of the city's history.

Late Friday, the city finally released records indicating careless maintenance may have compromised the integrity of some of the basement's concrete columns, exposing structural steel. What's still not clear is what effect the high temperatures, like those that occurred during the electrical fire, might have had on the exposed steel.

The record also indicates main electrical switches have been improperly altered and must be replaced, a lengthy exercise that requires a custom-built piece of equipment.

Additionally, the building is improperly ventilated, and room ducts are filled with dirt and rodent feces. Three boilers were installed with no record of a permit, fire equipment has been altered without a permit or inspection, and many emergency power circuits aren't working.

Scary stuff -- even before the fire.

Questions still unanswered after the fire include:

• Why these problems had existed for years but were not acted on by either city or HUD code inspectors.

• Will Berke or the city council seek refunds of the $622,200 in 1,174 fire calls -- mostly false alarms -- over the past three and a half years from either PK or the previous owner, another management company?

• Will PK Management pony up reimbursement or at least a donation for the Salvation Army which by midday Friday had served more than 2,100 meals and 4,500 drinks to the evacuees? And will the company reimburse or make a donation to the Red Cross which continued at least through Friday to shelter 117 residents?

• And why did Berke's office delay a public records request from the newspaper earlier this week about Chattanooga Fire Department's inspection reports for the facility and firefighter call records for the facility? The documents detailing the structural questions and filth were released after 5 p.m. on Friday.

Berke opened a news conference on Friday morning to say the city is working with the building owner and with social service agencies. But he didn't offer specifics. The day before, his office stopped fire officials from releasing public records about the building's condition and the previous fire calls there.

This doesn't jibe with his campaign calls for "accountability" and "transparency."

On Thursday, fire officials in a telephone conversation with Times Free Press reporter Ellis Smith said they were looking at inspection sheets in a computer as they talked with him. They said they would send them as soon as they had approval from the mayor's office.

Several hours later, they said they could not release the records.

There's no reasonable explanation for such a lack of responsiveness. These are public records about a taxpayer-subsidized building for low-income elderly and disabled residents who have been sleeping on cots for a week.

These people deserve better. So do taxpayers.

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mountainlaurel said...

TFP asks: “Why these problems had existed for years but were not acted on by either city or HUD code inspectors.”

Good question. . . I recall reading somewhere that a lot of Section 8 Housing is contracted through the state, which means that HUD probably has a contract with the State of Tennessee Housing Development Agency and PK Properties is probably one of Tennessee’s Housing Development contractors. As such, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency should have a file on Patten Towers with the list of inspection dates and so forth.

June 1, 2013 at 11:48 p.m.
nucanuck said...

The residents of Patten Towers are very poor and have no political voice. The abuses by landlords in situations like this are not unusual...sadly.

June 2, 2013 at 1:48 a.m.
klifnotes said...

The problem is not as simple as landlords keeping up or not keeping up the property. Many of those living in Patten Towers have psychological, mential and emotionals problems, as well as physical ones. Wherever they go their problems and situations will follow them.

This time the fire was an electrical one out of the tenants control. You have to admit though, prior fires started at Patten Towers were started by the tenants living there.

It can become very expensive for any landlord who takes on such a burden and taks, as dealing with people with emotional, mental and psychological problems or even healthy ones who just don't respect and care for where they live. Expensive to the point where the landlord lose more money than he or she takes in, due to costly repairs and upkeep, because the tenants can't, won't or aren't mentally stable enough to take on some of the most basic care and responsibility of keeping up where they live without destroying property themselves. I've known of some landlords who actually ended up losing property due to costly repairs when the tenants kept destroying and tearing up the property, and when a major event happens such as an electrical problem, not of their making, the expense of already having to care and keep up the property is compounded. Electrical and plumbing repairs can be very costly and can wipe out a landlords account set aside for repairs. I've known renters to flush things down toilets they shouldn't have and the plumber had to come in and rip out the entire plumbing system and replace it.

Many of these individuals will need additional help, perhaps social services intervention and teaching on how to help upkeep their property so when and if a major problem occurs, out of their control, the landlord hasn't already exhausted funds due to the tenants own lack of care for the apartment or houses rented to them.

June 2, 2013 at 9:12 a.m.
lightkeeper said...

@Klifnotes...You're going by what you think and not what you know. Have you been to Patton Towers, been to anyone's apartment that live there? Most everyone that lives in Patton Towers keep up their apartments. Has anyone told you this or are you just a plain idiot. Patton apartments are inspected by the resident manager and or HUD every three to six months. Anyone not in compliance with the upkeep of their apartment after three warnings will be evicted. I know of no one that has flushed anything down toilets that live there. You probably stuff your depends down your toilet and stop it up if anything. Tenants that live in Patton Towers are not necessarily any poorer than anyone else on SSI disability. Its unfortunate that these false perceptions exist possibly due to a few undesirables giving it a bad name which every community has. And as far as fire alarms are concerned, there are over two hundred apartments with HIHGLY SENSITIVE DIGITAL SMOKE DETECTORS that are connected directly to the fire dept. to prevent a towering inferno in the event of a real fire. This is a city code enforcement and not the tenants fault. If you or anyone else have a problem with that, take it to city hall.

June 2, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Nucanuck says: "The residents of Patten Towers are very poor and have no political voice. The abuses by landlords in situations like this are not unusual...sadly."

Indeed, it is a sad and unsettling situation. I’ve read that most of the residents residing at Patton Towers are elderly and disabled, which is a very vulnerable population.

What I’ve found odd in following this story is that while there have been a lots of agencies on the scene and lots of comments attributed to these various agencies, including the Chattanooga Mayor’s office and Fire Department, no one has mentioned the government agency directly responsible for overseeing the Patten Towers Section 8 HUD Project, which according to their website is the State of Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

Since many of the quotes attributed to the residents of Patten Towers have strongly indicated that this current situation is just one of many problems that they’ve experienced during the past few years, one would think that a representative of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency would be on site to access the situation. Like PK Management, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency has its own set of contract compliance obligations with HUD and outdated electrical wiring, elevators that get stuck, and leaky laundry room roofs that have been neglected for nine months are clearly not lightweight complaints.

One would also think some of these things particularly risky issues like outdated electrical wiring would have been resolved and updated before the Patten Towers site could have even been approved as Section 8 Housing project. Clearly, it's a serious safety issue.

June 2, 2013 at 11:48 a.m.
klifnotes said...

Yes, lightkeeper. I've been inside Patten Towers both before and after the place began to decline. Before, there were mainly retirees, old veterans and their spouse, and the place was really nice. Then a few years later when I went inside one could easily tell the difference, and that the place was declining at an alarming rate. So no I'm absolutely not an idiot, and such reference is really unnecessary and unwarranted. Stuff only a small minded individual would resort to on the subject.

You're right, though, I haven't been inside or visited the place in about 3 years. I really don't venture into the downtown area much anymore, and it has nothing to do with poor people living in Patten Towers and more with the newly arrivals intentions over the years and their campaign to run the poor and the homeless away from downtown.

June 2, 2013 at 3:48 p.m.
lightkeeper said...

The building has been upgraded, new laundry, paint, carpet ect. So if you have not been there for awhile(whatever that is)Then "you"are small minded for making such false statements. So that my friend makes you an even bigger idiot.

June 2, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.
klifnotes said...

Apparently, lightkeeper, you have a problem with reading/comprehension. I simply suggested blaming everything on the landlord is not always the case. That there are other factors to consider. You're talking about building upgrades, while I was speaking of other factors that often comes into play. Remember, the story and other complainers who've complained about the poor occupying Patten Towers for over a decade, because it's considered prime property are the ones who're insinuating the blame lies with the landlord lack of upkeep. My response was in defense of the landlord. duh--Who has the small mind?

btw-3yrs isn't like haven't been there in a while. You apparently have a problem with arithematic as well as reading/comprehension.

June 2, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.
lightkeeper said...
<p>@Klifnotes..Evidently "you" can't read, comprehend, or on drugs You make false statements before you think. You clearly indicated it was residents of Patton Towers who were to blame for the existing problems. Accused residents of flushing items down toilets, starting fires, destroying property. and that every one who lives there have mental problems which is not true. Now you're saying you didn't make those statements and its here in black and white print. That makes you not only an idiot, but a lying idiot.

June 3, 2013 at 9:23 a.m.
klifnotes said...

lightkeeper said.. You clearly indicated it was residents of Patton Towers who were to blame for the existing problems. Accused residents of flushing items down toilets, starting fires, destroying property. and that every one who lives there have mental problems which is not true. Now you're saying you didn't make those statements and its here in black and white print. That makes you not only an idiot, but a lying idiot.


I apologize. I forgot school was out and the individual responding might lack the mental and emotional capacity to read and comprehend.

Actually, with the exception of the fire starts, which many in the past occured at the hands of the residents and not the landlord, I was generalizing as whole the problems landlords sometimes face when renting, and not just renting @ The Patten. Especially when renting to individuals with mental and emotional problems, but not specifically to those type individuals. Now if you go back and attempt to really read and comprehend what I said, you'll realize you're the one making an azz out of yourself on the topic. Seemingly purposely twisting what I said.

Reading is F U N D A M E N T A L. Comprhension is P R I C E L E S S!! Try it! And make sure your brain is fully loaded before shooting off at the mouth.

June 3, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.
lightkeeper said...

klifnotes: If you think that everyone that lives in Patten Towers, has a mental or emotional problem then maybe you should try, COMPRENENDING, because it is clear to me that your understanding of this situation is something in need of a dictionary. The truth HURTS, and u are a prime example, for u just stood out to me by your remarks on this page as the azz... of all azzes... However I refuse to drop to your level it is clear that the truth about Patten Towers, u know nothing at all about.. So u lie on for this is all Chatta., mentally challenged people such as yourself DO!!

June 3, 2013 at 9:17 p.m.
klifnotes said...

lightkeeper said... If you think that everyone that lives in Patten Towers, has a mental or emotional problem then maybe you should try, COMPRENENDING


I refuse to be baited by stupidity and ignorance. You know darn well that's not what I said. But carry on. Your evil shows through loud and clear. You can continue to talk to yourself and all your alters if that will make you feel better. But I refuse to be drawn in to your obviously warped and wicked ugliness.

June 3, 2013 at 11:25 p.m.
lightkeeper said...

klifnotes: I just need to tell u one last thing, the wickedness and ugliness is all yours. I am not as evil as you are; that statement shown by you calling the people who reside @ Patten mentally, elderly and physically disabled. Sure some are disabled, but you seem to group all in this category, so I say to u the ignorance is all yours. So you just talk to YOURSELF!, because I will not go to your uneducated, unfeeling, warped and wicked ugliness that you call a soul, for that u do not have in you at all.

June 4, 2013 at 12:56 p.m.
klifnotes said...

Well, lightkeeper, I guess that makes David Cook evil and wicked too, based on your finaly analysis of my post. Because he just wrote a piece in today's TFP validating what I'd already said. Yes, your purposeful twisting and manipulating of words are indeed either wicked and evil or born of ignorance and stupidity.

Now for me the subject is closed. I think the reason you continue to attempt to discredit and manipulate what I really said is because you have egg on your face after finally realizing you misrepresented what I said and you're too shamed to admit it.

June 4, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.
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