Lakeview Realty in Chicago is top bidder for Chattanooga's Harriet Tubman housing project

Lakeview Realty in Chicago is top bidder for Chattanooga's Harriet Tubman housing project

October 10th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Cactus grows next to the entrance to a unit at the site of the former Harriet Tubman Homes, seen Wednesday. The sprawling housing project site is being offered for sale by the Chattanooga Housing Authority. One of the contenders for the site is a Chicago-based development company that proposes to put Section 8 and market rate housing on the site, and about 100 units of housing for seniors.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

If you go

What: Community meeting to discuss sale of Harriet Tubman site and Affordable Housing Ordinance

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Avondale Recreation Center at 1305 Dodson Ave.

Who: Public is invited. Meeting hosted by the People's Coalition of Affordable Housing

Affordable housing may be on the horizon for some Chattanooga residents after all.

Chattanooga Housing Authority officials said a Chicago-based firm has submitted a $2.8 million bid - the highest among four bidders - for the vacant 440-unit Harriet Tubman site.

Instead of using the 36 acres for business or industry, a plan proposed by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Lakewood Realty Group plans to build 440 housing units on the site. Berke withdrew the city's $1 million bid.

The People's Coalition for Affordable Housing, a group including Chattanooga Organized for Action, former Tubman residents and others concerned about affordable housing, have called a meeting today with representatives from the housing authority, city and the Chamber of Commerce to discuss an Affordable Housing Ordinance and the sale of the Tubman site.

"The Coalition expected that the CHA should not make a decision on the [Tubman] property until a public community meeting could be held to discuss the community's vision for Tubman," according to a letter signed by the People's Coalition for Affordable Housing.

Lakewood Realty Group broker Barbara Szymanska said her company has developed seven other housing sites before casting its bid to develop Tubman. All of the sites are in Chicago or Chicago suburbs.

One site is at 8623 Foster Ave. in Chicago, she said.

Unlike the Tubman development, Lakewood proposes that half of the units will be allocated for residents who need subsidized housing, 120 of them will be market-rate housing and 100 units will be set aside for the elderly.

"The complex is beautifully situated," said Szymanska. "We plan to do some upgrades on it."

The mixed-income housing proposal is similar to a proposal by the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization Purpose Built for College Hill Courts in the Westside. Purpose Built's plan was to reduce public housing units and build market-rate housing. However, Purpose Built's plan also included working with the community to find resources for support services like a school and child care facility.

Chattanooga Housing Authority board Chairman Eddie Holmes said he hopes the staff presents its recommendation for a developer for Tubman to the board at the next board meeting on Oct. 22.

Betsy McCright, CHA's executive director, said she also wants to present a recommendation to the board for the October meeting, but making a decision in November is more likely.

She said a new bid of $2 million from another Illinois developer came in this month. She likely still will go with the highest bidder, Lakewood, but the other bid has to be reviewed and Lakewood must enter a 15-day due diligence process before the board is asked to consider it, she said. Those mandatory 15 days will push against the Oct. 22 board meeting, McCright said.

Six companies initially inquired about the Tubman property. But when the housing authority's broker Kirkland Company called each of them on Sept. 19, only three said they were still interested.

Two of them, including the city and Geoffrey Singer of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., had made an offer of $1 million, said CHA's vice president of development Naveed Minhas.

Meanwhile, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Branch of the NAACP is petitioning the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to stop the demolition and sale of all public housing properties in Chattanooga until a study can be made to determine the impact on displaced tenants. The NAACP wants HUD to make sure that the housing authority is following relocation guidelines and meeting the criteria of HUD standards for housing.

The NAACP mailed the letter to HUD Regional Director Ed. Jennings Jr. in September.

NAACP President James Mapp said some residents were in better housing when they lived at Tubman, compared to the housing they have since the site was closed. Some former Tubman residents have said they are homeless.

Mapp said he is also concerned about how voting blocs are broken up when public housing sites are demolished, he said.

He said he has not heard back from federal officials. HUD offices now are closed as a result of the government shutdown.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.