The Westside Community Association is starting a petition drive to collect signatures from all public housing residents to oppose the Chattanooga Housing Authority's proposed increase in its late fee for rent.
"We're asking for a flat fee instead of a percentage," said Dennis Westmeier, treasure of the Westside Community Association.
The Westside leaders are going door to door to get signatures, said Joe Clark, vice president of the Westside Community Association.
The goal is to get as many signatures as possible before the end of the comment period on May 20.
The housing authority is proposing to increase the late fee for rent from $5 to 10 percent of a public housing resident's rent.
The petition suggests "an increase in the late rent fee as a fixed rate of no less than $10 and no more than $15."
CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes said he wonders if residents understand that by requesting a flat fee of $15, the person who pays a minimum rent of $50 would pay $5 under the 10 percent increase, but could pay $15 under the flat rate.
Housing officials say they need to increase the late fee to be in compliance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. CHA received a below standard score from HUD because so much rent went uncollected.
However, Westside organizers argue that CHA's problem lies with its management and not its residents.These folks need to be helped with budgeting time and money, said Westmeier, who said he has experience managing nonprofit organizations.
HUD has people who are supposed to help residents become self-sufficient. But those programs don't exist at College Hill Courts, said the Rev. Leroy Griffith, former president of the Westside Community Association which includes College Hill housing development site.
Holmes said he agrees that it would be good if residents received more services. But the bottom line is that the housing authority doesn't have the money. And HUD does not pay for those services, he said.
"We're operating on $1.5 million less this year than we had last year," said Holmes.
He said staff are taking furloughs and CHA is renting out portions of its central office to get money. "We're getting less money, not more. But the residents are asking for more services," he said.
Holmes agreed that the system has fallen short for a lot of public housing residents.
"But we are the Greater Chattanooga Housing Authority," said Holmes. "We provide housing."