published Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Potential buyers interested in Chattanooga's vacant Harriet Tubman public housing site

The Chattanooga Housing Authority Harriet Tubman complex in East Chattanooga sits vacant. Bidding for the 440-unit complex has recently picked up.
The Chattanooga Housing Authority Harriet Tubman complex in East Chattanooga sits vacant. Bidding for the 440-unit complex has recently picked up.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
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Five parties have expressed interest in buying the vacant Harriet Tubman public housing site, but it still could be months before the Chattanooga Housing Authority receives a firm offer, said Naveed Minhas, the agency's vice president of development.

Letters of interest from the five have indicated the buildings could bring a price ranging from $800,000 to $4 million.

CHA wants to sell the property as quickly as possible amid reports of squatters taking up residence and mounting maintenance costs.

"The problem is we're keeping up the property," said CHA executive director Betsy McCright. "We've got to patrol it. We have to mow it. We have to keep it boarded. We have to fend off people trying to break into it."

McCright said four of the five interested parties indicated that housing would be put on the property, while the other talked about a mix of housing and commercial buildings.

Minhas emphasized that CHA makes no restrictions on the property and that the developer doesn't have to build low-income housing. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees public housing, gives no regulations, Minhas said.

"We're saying if you have the money, whatever you do with the property is your business," he said.

But he said the housing authority has a responsibility to know the buyer's intentions to make sure they are compatible with the East Chattanooga community, the city and the county.

Minhas said he expects it will take six to nine months for the parties to present a firm offer, and he expects only two of the five that have shown interest to actually make offers.

He said the other three that initially sent letters of intent have not communicated since sending the first letter. The other two parties have been communicating more frequently with the housing authority.

HUD gave CHA permission to sell the site in December 2011. With 440 units spread across 36 acres, it was the second-largest public housing site in the city.

CHA relocated fewer than 300 residents from the deteriorating property in 2012, saying at least $33 million of work was needed to put Harriet Tubman in good condition and that the agency did not have the money.

Harriet Tubman, located in East Chattanooga, has been around since 1963, but some buildings were built as early as 1953.

CHA board members agreed to extend the one-year contract with the Brentwood-based Kirkland Co. to continue marketing the Tubman site for another year.

McCright said the housing agency wants to sell the property, but it also wants it to be of good use to the community.

"The hope from the housing authority is that if the land should be developed, it be developed in a thoughtful way, giving consideration to that neighborhood which is trying to reinvent itself."

People living near the Harriet Tubman site have mixed feelings about the property.

"We need them open. We've got a lot of people homeless," said Cynthia Smith, who drove near the property Monday afternoon.

Johnetta Martin walked by the site just after Smith left. She said she is homeless and has been trying to get a job.

"I hope they let people with no income in," she said.

Sixty-nine year old Clifford Moore lives in a house across the street from the site. He said he dodged several bullets that came through his yard when people lived in Harriet Tubman.

"Shootings every day," he said. "Am I suppose to love that? I'm glad they are gone."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yput man@timesfreepress.com.

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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