Patten Towers not yet inspected by Chattanooga officials

Patten Towers not yet inspected by Chattanooga officials

June 22nd, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Patten Towers

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Patten Towers be closed?

Chattanooga inspectors still have not entered Patten Towers to see if the building's owner has made it livable, but city officials say they've been told to expect a call soon.

The 11-story public housing building at 11th and Market streets has been empty since a May 28 basement fire made its 241 elderly or disabled residents temporarily homeless.

More than 200 residents have been staying in hotels paid for by building owner PK Management.

Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Mayor Andy Berke's office, said Friday afternoon PK Management hasn't asked the city to inspect repairs to an electric switchgear and other fire damage. The city also is making PK Management submit specific plans for how it will address a litany of other problems found during a post-fire inspection.

Meantime, local nonprofits learned Friday that hotel stays for the residents, which were supposed to end Friday, have been extended another week, said Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of Metropolitan Ministries.

PK Management officials did not attend the meeting Friday and did not respond to emails seeking confirmation that stays had been extended.

Still, not all residents are in hotels. Some have been kicked out for behavioral issues or for cooking in their hotel rooms. An estimated 20 have never been found by PK Management or nonprofits.

"[Metropolitan Ministries] has put up six Patten Towers residents who were either kicked out of hotels or were lost sheep," Whelchel said.

Despite PK Management's silence, there are indications the residents may be able to move back into the building soon.

Emily O'Donnell, an attorney with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, said she received a "flood of phone calls" Thursday, because residents reportedly were being told they had to sign new leases before they could move back.

O'Donnell said she is alarmed at reports PK Management personnel were not allowing residents to have attorneys review the documents.

"I had a flood of phone calls that PK was coming to their hotel rooms and demanding that they sign documents," O'Donnell said Friday. "They were not allowed to hold on to the documents and bring them to me for legal advice."

When O'Donnell and others from her office went to the hotel rooms to aid the residents, PK Management employees blocked them, O'Donnell said.

"They would not allow us to be present during the signing of the document. They asked another one of our lawyers to leave," she said.

O'Donnell learned that PK Management staff were having residents sign new leases, when they only needed interim recertification forms for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

PK Management corrected the form flub, "but all of that, understandably, caused a panic," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell said if PK Management had been more open, she could have made its job easier.

"If my clients need to sign a HUD form to get back in, I would do the work for them. ... My goal is to get them back into housing with as little trouble as possible," O'Donnell said.

When asked what the legal ramifications were for those residents who may have signed new leases despite having current leases active, O'Donnell said she wasn't certain.

"I think one of the themes of this crisis is poor dissemination of accurate information," O'Donnell said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.