CHA has at least three offers to purchase Harriet Tubman site in Chattanooga

CHA has at least three offers to purchase Harriet Tubman site in Chattanooga

February 26th, 2014 by Yolanda Putman and Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Vacant apartments are seen at the former Harriet Tubman housing project on Roanoke Avenue.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Andy Berke

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Yusuf Hakeem

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Eddie Holmes

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Document: Request for CHA Investigation

Letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting a criminal investigation of the Chattanooga Housing Authority.

Chattanooga Housing Authority board members have at least three bids to consider for the purchase of the former Harriet Tubman housing site, the Times Free Press has learned.

Mayor Andy Berke has offered $1 million and a 20-acre tract of land while the newest bid from Chicago-based Lakewood Realty Group is for $3.3 million along with $100,000 in cash at the time of the sale, according to a CHA meeting agenda.

A private developer made a third offer for the property but the offer is much less than the city and Lakewood, officials said.

The bid from Lakewood, whose effort to buy Tubman failed in January, drew a sharp response from City Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem, who said he is shocked that the Chicago group had made a new offer. Hakeem asked the CHA board to reject the Lakewood offer in January. He said the firm had its chance and shouldn't be taken seriously this time.

"They've had three bites at the apple," he said. "I don't see them as a legitimate partner in this process for the housing authority."

CHA originally chose Lakewood's offer last year over Berke's because it was the highest offer, but board Chairman Eddie Holmes said CHA doesn't have to go with the highest bidder. Instead he said the housing authority's objective is whether the offer is best for CHA, the community and for the city.

Tuesday, CHA refused to release the details of the offers to purchase Tubman, stating that the housing authority is exempt under a confidential records clause in the Tennessee Open Records Act.

The housing authority had planned to consider the latest round of new bids for Tubman at its board meeting Tuesday, but the item was taken off the budget Monday evening when housing officials said they needed clarification about Lakewood.

Holmes said the board wasn't ready to publicly discuss the three bids because there is contingency within all of the offers. He specifically cited concerns with the city's offer to give the former Poss Homes property back to CHA.

However, Tuesday's meeting was packed with citizens interested in the Tubman discussion. Enora "Nori" Moss, a founding member of the Good Neighbor Network, was among those attending the meeting because most thought the Tubman property would be discussed. The audience included representatives from Glass House Collective, East Chattanooga Improvement Corp., the Avondale Neighborhood Association and the Peoples Coalition for Affordable Housing.

"I came to hear about the Harriet Tubman site and detailed information about the bids and that did not happen," she said. "Hopefully they will address it later."

Even though the city's current offer is lower than Lakewood, Hakeem said CHA is factoring into its decision what's best for the community, which makes the city's bid a viable choice.

While some people's public perception has been that city officials are influencing CHA's decision, Hakeem said the city has acted appropriately and will respect the housing authority's decision on a buyers.

Holmes took time Tuesday to defend the board, a day after the Peoples Coalition for Affordable Housing sent the U.S. Attorney General's Office a request to investigate CHA, citing "apparently irregular and illegal methods of attempting to sell" the Tubman property.

"Our concern has always been first of all what's best for the housing authority and then what's best for the community next," Holmes said.

Perrin Lance, founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action and liaison for the Peoples Coalition for Affordable Housing, said the community has lost trust in CHA.

"Trust is completely eroded between the communities and the housing authority," Lance said.

East Chattanooga activist Patrick Kellogg asked the housing authority to host a public meeting where all bids to purchase Tubman would be presented to the public and that CHA gives the public the measures that the housing authority uses to decide on a buyer. The housing authority should be more transparent concerning the process of choosing a buyer, he said.

"The process is not open," said Kellogg. "There is no objective way for the public to weigh in and verify the best bidder and best use of the property is going to be had."

Naveed Minhas, CHA's vice president of development, said CHA may call a special meeting to discuss Tubman as soon as housing officials get more information about offers on the property.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 757-6659.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timefreepress.com or 757-6431.