An increasing number of disabled people are living in public housing, and the Chattanooga Housing Authority plans to spend at least $1.4 million to help them.
The housing agency is one year into a voluntary compliance agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make 83 of its 2,250 public housing units more handicap accessible by 2015. Of the 83 units, 44 will be refitted for people with limited mobility and 39 for people with hearing or vision disabilities.
CHA estimates the refitting cost will be at least $15,000 per unit.
It's an added financial challenge, said CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes.
Forty percent of public housing residents are disabled, either physically or mentally, according to CHA's 2013 Agency Plan, up from 37 percent in 2012 and from 36 percent in 2011 and 2010.
"If we're putting in new units, we're almost required by law to have a certain amount available for the disabled," Holmes said.
So far, CHA has installed a video relay system at the Cromwell Hills management office that allows residents who are deaf to see the person they're talking with, making it possible to read lips or use sign language. A similar unit was included at Fairmount Apartments, which opened in May in North Chattanooga. The new complex also had one unit built to be handicap accessible. Maple Hills Apartments, which opened in July, includes four units for people with disabilities.
CHA's 2013 plan recognizes the demand in Chattanooga for special needs housing.
"The CHA will respond to this need by increasing the supply of handicapped-accessible and audio-visual units through comprehensive modernization activities," according to the plan.
Former Chattanooga Housing Authority Executive Director Bob Dull said in 2008 that disabled and senior residents age 50 and older are expected to replace single women with children as the dominant population in Chattanooga's public housing sites within the next 10 years.
The Tennessee Housing Development Agency projects the number of public housing residents disabled or age 50 and older will increase 20 percent to 40 percent by 2018, Dull said previously.
By the end of November, CHA expects to get approval from HUD to close its agreement to purchase the 136-unit Dogwood Manor from Chattanooga, said Naveed Minhas, CHA's vice president of development. If the purchase goes as planned, CHA will do a $5 million renovation to that building and convert the units from Section 8 housing to low-income housing for seniors, he said.
Seniors already living in Dogwood Manor will be offered housing vouchers to relocate, housing officials said.