Seven public housing sites that are home to thousands of Chattanooga's poor would be sold or demolished under a five-year plan officials say is intended to clear the way for new and improved public housing stock.
In all, more than 1,600 run-down housing units - more than half the city's inventory - would be razed under the Chattanooga Housing Authority proposal. Approval by the CHA board could come as early as today, though clearance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also would be required.
The CHA plan is in line with HUD-backed efforts nationwide to get away from large multifamily public housing sites that exclusively house the poorest of the poor, and move toward smaller communities that include public housing along with market rate rentals and privately owned homes and residents with a mix of incomes.
Whether the seven public housing sites would be redeveloped depends on the availability of federal funds, officials said.
If redevelopment does occur, it probably would take years, and even then would likely result in fewer available units for the poor, a CHA officials said.
That leaves Doris Conner with one question:
Where are poor people going to live?
Conner, a resident of the College Hill Courts public housing development, said she experienced the housing authority's relocation plan about 10 years ago.
She was required to move from the now torn down Spencer J. McCallie Homes to the Emma Wheeler Homes in anticipation of the $35 million project that built the Villages at Alton Park.
When the new Villages units were completed, she tried to get back in but couldn't because the waiting list was too long, she said.
Today, as then, housing officials say that displaced residents would be offered relocation assistance.
Housing officials assure residents that if CHA does receive funding for demolition, they will get a 90-day notice for relocation. The housing authority also would allow residents to move into other housing sites or offer housing choice vouchers to help residents relocate.
"The (relocation) plan is no comfort," Conner said. "I didn't get to live where I wanted."
She said her new apartment in Emma Wheeler Homes was so roach-infested that she moved again to live near her son in Lincoln, Neb., for a year and "still had roaches in her clothes when she got there."
She later relocated to College Hill.
A single person may make up to $31,300 and still live in public housing. A family of four may make up to $44,700. Residents pay a third of their income for rent and also have to pay for utilities if they exceed their utility allowance, housing officials said.
Today, CHA has just over 3,000 units of public housing - nearly 600 fewer units than it did in 1999 - as the agency has moved to smaller concentrations of housing, according to officials.
More than 200,000 public housing units across the country have been eliminated in the past 10 years, said CHA executive director Elizabeth McCright.
HUD has encouraged cities to create mixed-income communities as they carry out plans to revitalize their public housing stock, said spokeswoman Donna White.
"Mixing market rate rental units, privately owned housing and affordable housing can alleviate some of the intense isolation and poverty that was generally found in older public housing communities," she said.
However, having less-concentrated public housing sites challenges HUD and communities to work together to find innovative ways to provide affordable housing, White said. Some new plans include rental vouchers and low-income housing tax credits to place people in private rentals, White said.
As CHA has decreased its number of public housing units, it has increased the number of Housing Choice Vouchers it offers. In 2000 about 1,450 people had vouchers, formerly called Section 8. This year that number increased to about 3,000 voucher holders.
The soaring cost of maintaining an aging public housing inventory also has spurred efforts to redevelop. Some of the CHA units proposed for demolition or sale are 70 years old.
In 2007, it would have cost the city $36.2 million to address all the backlogged repairs needed in the 1,662 units now proposed for sale or demolition, CHA figures show.
"They're deteriorating to a point where they are not safe any longer," said Eddie Holmes, CHA's board chairman. "We can no longer maintain them."
CHA officials want board members to approve the plan at the housing authority's board meeting today.
"It doesn't mean we're going to immediately demolish the sites, but the potential is there," Holmes said.
All 50 units of Steiner Apartments already have been approved for demolition and CHA plans to build 48 units in their place. CHA already has been allocated up to $250,000 in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds for the Steiner project, but seeks about $2 million in additional federal funds. The plan already has HUD approval.
Other sites proposed for demolition in CHA's five-year plan include the agency's largest and oldest sites: College Hill Courts, East Lake Courts and the Harriet Tubman housing development, McCright said.
Anita Pickett, for one, is all for revitalization. She said she hopes it happens for her Harriet Tubman community sooner rather than later.
"We have paid our taxes and dues just like people in Red Bank, Ooltewah or anywhere else," said Pickett, 45. "We just happen to live in public housing. But we're as good as anybody else and we want to improve our neighborhood."
The buildings at Harriet Tubman are too old to keep patching up, Pickett said, and she'd like to live in homes like those at the Oaks at Camden or the Villages at Alton Park.
The Villages at Alton Park and Oaks at Camden, both CHA developments, are townhome-style housing instead of the red brick barracks-style at Harriet Tubman.
"We're trying to poise ourselves so that, if the money comes through, we're ready to go with it," said McCright.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.
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