CHA balks at Tubman benefits agreement

CHA balks at Tubman benefits agreement

March 7th, 2014 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Vacant apartments are seen at the former Harriet Tubman housing project on Roanoke Avenue. CHA has put the site up for sale.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Any developer who takes over the former Harriet Tubman site should have to sign a community benefits agreement holding the developer accountable for hiring residents and making sure residents benefit from the development, the People's Coalition for Affordable Housing says.

"This is a way to ensure that whatever happens to Tubman, it can directly benefit the communities involved and [those] most impacted," said Perrin Lance, president of Chattanooga Organized for Action and liaison for the People's Coalition.

The coalition sent the Chattanooga Housing Authority and others a packet of examples of about 20 projects across the country where community benefits agreements have been implemented successfully.

However, CHA officials say they have no intention of requiring a community benefits agreement from any developer.

That's like selling somebody a car and then telling them what to do with it, said Eddie Holmes, CHA board chairman.

"Once we sell the property, we sell the property. We don't dictate what has to be done with it," he said.

CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said she wouldn't recommend the agency board require such an agreement.

"It would impede our ability to dispose of the property and sell the property," she said.

The city of Chattanooga is one of three potential buyers to submit offers for the property. Chicago-based Lakewood Realty Group has proposed purchasing the Tubman site for $3.3 million plus $100,000 at the time of closing, and putting mixed use housing on the property. Berke proposes purchasing the property for $1 million and a 20-acre tract of land and using the site to bring jobs to the community. A third developer made an offer, but board members said it is much less than the other two offers.

Regardless of whether a community benefits agreement is required, "creating jobs for those who live around the Harriet Tubman site is a top priority" for Mayor Andy Berke, according to Lacie Stone, Berke's communications director.

Berke's goal is to ensure that East Chattanooga residents be hired for a portion of the construction and manufacturing jobs created by the development, she said in an email.

Tubman, once the city's second largest housing development with 440 units, has been for sale for more than two years.

Perrin said without a community benefits agreement, developers would be able to do what they want without letting the community have its say. That is not what people want, he said.

Residents should benefit from what happens to the 36-acre site, Perrin said.

Having a community benefits agreement is a legally binding agreement drawn up by lawyers that would protect residents, he said.

"Some people want jobs," he said. "But there are no guarantees that the jobs are going to people in the community."

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