published Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Former residents want affordable housing at Harriet Tubman site in Chattanooga

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    Former Harriet Tubman Homes resident Fantasy Johnson speaks to members of the Chattanooga Housing Authority board Tuesday as they listen to public comments about the future of the former Harriet Tubman public housing site in East Chattanooga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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Chattanooga Housing Authority board members may not be aware of the hardship that comes when people have no housing, Cynthia Stanley Cash said.

"We're having three and four families living on top of each other. Some families are living in cars and some are in hotels," she said.

Cash was one of several residents who spoke Tuesday during the housing authority's public comment period for its 2014 Annual Agency Plan and Five-Year Agency Plan.

But instead of expressing specific concerns about the plan, all of the speakers asked the housing authority to keep affordable housing on the former Tubman site.

The housing development was once home to 440 families before it closed and was put up for sale in 2012.

Cash and several of the people attending the housing authority meeting said some former Tubman residents still have not found housing.

About 500 fewer families, 2,571, live in public housing this year than the 3,000-plus families who lived in housing sites in 2000, according to CHA's 2014 Agency Plan. More than 1,000 people are on the waiting list for public housing, according to the 2014 plan.

Housing officials closed Tubman, once the second-largest public housing site in the city, after saying it was too costly to repair.

"The affordable housing situation is at crisis level," said Perrin Lance, co-founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action. "As you make your decision consider the needs you've heard here today."

Former Harriet Tubman resident Fantasy Johnson, community activist Patrick Kellogg and the Rev. Leroy Griffith all spoke about the need for affordable housing and asked housing officials to keep the Tubman site for affordable housing.

CHA board chairman Eddie Holmes responded.

"We hear your cry," said Holmes. "We hear your plea. We do care, and we have compassion."

Nothing has been discussed with the board so there is no time line in terms of the board of making a final decision.

Holmes said he would check with housing authority officials and suggest that they make a public statement about CHA's position on the Tubman property.

Lance also asked the housing authority to make sure people in the community are among those hired to work on the site if CHA sells it for industrial use.

The city has offered $1 million for the site, stating that it would use it for industry. The housing agency also has five other offers from developers proposing to pay from $800,000 to $4 million. Those offers include developers proposing to use the site for affordable housing.

The staff is working on reviewing the viable inquiries into the site, said Betsy McCright, CHA's executive director.

In other news, the housing authority also discussed ways to save money for its Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly known by its former name Section 8.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development advised the agency to use cost-saving measures so the housing agency could serve more families, McCright said.

Having a 5 percent rent increase cap, lowering payments to landlords and allowing more than one person to sleep in the same room are among the ways the housing agency is planning to save money.

CHA board members approved the 5 percent rent increase cap on Tuesday. That means that landlords may apply for a rent increase of up to 5 percent of their previous rent after a tenant has lived in the site for a year.

Other suggestions such as lowering payments to landlords and allowing more than one person to sleep in a bedroom will be put up for public comment. Holmes said he expects the public comment period to start within the next month.

McCright said some landlords are paid at 110 percent of market rate, and the housing agency is to reduce all payments to 100 percent of market rate.

Several people in the crowd grunted and murmured when housing officials announced the agency's plan for saving money for its Section 8 program.

"If we have a boy who is 8 and a girl who is 6, we would not put them in the same bedroom, we would give them a three-bedroom voucher assuming there is also a parent. What HUD wants us to do is to reduce that to a two-bedroom voucher," McCright said.

Cash was among those in the audience who had concerns about two people of different sex in the same bedroom.

"It seems like they always have to take from the comfort of residents," she said. "Why not cut corners in the main office or make money off surplus property? When kids get of a certain age they need their own room."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at 423-757-6431 or yputman@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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