City wants out of housing business; residents just want things repaired

City wants out of housing business; residents just want things repaired

August 29th, 2011 by Yolanda Putman in News

Roxann Larson, president of the residents association at Dogwood Manor.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

AT A GLANCE


Chattanooga at one time owned three housing properties:

• Carr Street Apartments, sold between 2005 and 2006

• Morrison Springs Apartments, sold in 2007

• Dogwood Manor, city seeking buyer

Source: Rayburn Traughber, former CEO and president of Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise

In purchases dating back 25 years, the city acquired three apartment buildings to assure that affordable housing was available for some of its most vulnerable residents.

Now the city wants to get out of the housing business.

"That's not really the city's mission," said Dan Thornton, Chattanooga's real property manager. "We provide public infrastructure, public works, public recreation, but as far as public housing, that's a CHA mission."

Two of the three city-owned buildings occupied largely by low-income residents were sold over the years.

Now the city owns only Dogwood Manor, a high-rise building for the elderly in the Westside. It has been on the market since 2006, but federal restrictions on affordable housing make it more difficult to sell, city officials said.

The city bought Dogwood Manor from HUD in 2001 for $1 and then got a $2.49 million HUD grant to help with renovations.

The Chattanooga Housing Authority has managed it since July 1, 2007. CHA provides nearly 3,000 units of low-income housing and about 3,140 housing vouchers that offer subsidized housing to low-income Chattanooga residents.

CHA and city officials will meet to discuss a new contract agreement today.

Some Dogwood residents say they want CHA to buy the building to avoid problems - like the one that caused them to suffer through two summers with no or poorly working air conditioning.

CHA officials declined to comment on whether they intend to buy the building.

Dogwood Manor resident Pat Howard said she's had several surgeries and bouts with cancer, and she's too ill to live with broken air conditioning.

She said she needs for Dogwood Manor's next manager or owner to be more accountable for upkeep.

"We're not getting all that we need because [accountability] is in a state of going back and forth, said Howard, vice president of the Dogwood Resident Council.

Rayburn Traughber

She is among several residents who want Dogwood Manor to be owned and managed by one entity.

Another is Resident Council President Roxann Larson.

"When you have one owner and a different manager, it's harder to get things done," Larson said.

Thornton said CHA requested and received $50,000 from the city to repair or replace air conditioners.

But some tenants still don't have working air conditioning, Larson said.

That's a problem because the 136-unit building is full of elderly residents, some with respiratory illnesses or conditions that can cause them to become overheated easily, Larson said.

HISTORY

Between 1995 and 2005 - from former Mayor Gene Roberts to former Mayor Bob Corker's administrations - the city acquired more than 200 units of affordable housing by buying Morris Springs Apartments, Dogwood Manor and Carr Street Apartments, said Rayburn Traughber, a retired CEO and president of Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise.

CNE is a nonprofit that works to provide affordable housing and eliminate substandard housing in Chattanooga. CNE at one time managed the Morris Springs Apartments.

The city needed to buy the Carr Street Apartments because they were going into foreclosure after the city had invested federal money in them, Traughber said. Because of the federal investment, the city had to ensure the units stayed on the market for a certain time. The city had the first right of refusal when the Dogwood property became available and there was some concern that the building was going into foreclosure, he said.

Because Dogwood was very visible property downtown, city officials took control of it, Traughber said. With Morrison Springs, the goal was to maintain affordable housing that could have gone into foreclosure, he said.

The city sold Morrison Springs Apartments in 2007 and Carr Street Apartments between 2005 and 2006, Traughber said, both to private owners.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield.

DOWN TO DOGWOOD

Today, only Dogwood remains under city ownership.

The city provides no subsidy, so Dogwood residents pay one-third of their income for rent. Rent prices run as high as $568 a month. The city uses rent revenue to maintain the 18-story building, said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield.

No purchase price has been set for Dogwood, said Thornton. In 2005 it was appraised at $4.6 million, he said.

Howard said she wants the eventual owner to be more accountable to the residents for repairs and upkeep.

"We don't want to burn our bridges, and we don't want to add fuel to the fire. We just want results," she said.

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