Harriet Tubman residents relocating

Harriet Tubman residents relocating

December 30th, 2011 by Yolanda Putman in News

Aileen Young stands outside of her home in the Chattanooga Housing Authority's Harriet Tubman complex. Young is upset about having to move and hearing about plans to close the Tubman site as the community has become family to her.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

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Harriet Tubman residents who have questions about the relocation process may call the complex's management office at 752-4860.

The daughter of a retired Air Force officer has lived in a public housing site for four years and doesn't want to leave.

"They showed me hospitality. I showed them hospitality, and we created a bond," Aileen Young said. "Children come here, bake cookies, color and eat homemade soup. This is our family."

Young, her son and father are among about 250 families who received a letter this month informing them they were going to have to leave the Harriet Tubman housing complex.

The letter states the Chattanooga Housing Authority, which owns Harriet Tubman, has received approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to vacate the site.

"CHA is now ready to begin the process of relocating residents and making plans to sell Tubman in the future," according to the Dec. 13 signed by CHA Executive Director Elizabeth McCright.

CHA will start helping to relocate residents after Monday.

"We anticipate issuing residents a 90-day notice some time after the first of the year," McCright wrote in an email response to the Times Free Press' request for an interview. "However, CHA will work with each family to ensure that everyone is accommodated and properly housed."

Funding will be provided to help residents with moving expenses, according to the letter. Relocation amounts are determined by the U.S. Department of Transportation based on specific guidelines.

The relocation process may take from several months up to one year, housing officials said.

Tubman buildings will remain vacant. CHA says it doesn't have a buyer for the property, nor does it have the money to demolish or repair the dilapidated units.

Harriet Tubman has existed in East Chattanooga since 1963, but some buildings on the 36-acre site were built as early as 1953. It once had 500 units until 60 were demolished in 2005.

Avondale homeowner James Moreland, who lives two miles away from the site, said he doesn't think crime will increase as a result of Harriet Tubman being vacated but he does hope the housing authority will secure the development with a high fence when the residents leave.

"I believe there are outstanding people in that complex, but unfortunately, that complex has some real negatives that are not good for raising families," Moreland said. "That is one of the things we're struggling with in our community. I want to see children raised in an environment where they have opportunity and they are encouraged to get their education, not to grow up, have a baby and get a project. They've got to see positive role models around them."

With 440 units, Tubman is the second-largest CHA housing site, behind the 497-unit College Hill Courts. However, all units in Tubman haven't been occupied in years.

CHA reported in 2010 that 92 units at Tubman were vacant because they were in disrepair and 44 of those units had been vacant for at least a year.

It would cost about $20 million just to bring Harriet Tubman up to standard, according to a 2007 assessment conducted by Bradfield, Richards, Rhodes & Associates Architects Inc. In March, CHA released a statement saying it would take $33 million to put the site in good condition.

Units have gutters that hang off because wood on the roof is rotting and can't hold them up. The rotting wood causes leaks that eventually make the apartments uninhabitable, officials said.

Merely vacating the site and trying to find a buyer wasn't the housing authority's first choice for the site.

In November 2010, housing officials and the Hamilton County applied to HUD for Tubman and Glass Farms Historic District, located near Tubman, to be a Choice Neighborhood. Under that designation, the housing complex would have gained a $250,000, two-year grant to design a better Harriet Tubman and Glass Farms neighborhood. More money to develop the communities was expected to follow, but Chattanooga didn't get the grant.

This year, Harriet Tubman is one of two low-income areas named as sites for a potential Purpose Built Community. Purpose Built Community, an Atlanta-based nonprofit co-founded by billionaire Warren Buffet to improve impoverished neighborhoods, has visited Chattanooga at least twice and plans to return in January to discuss the possibility of revitalizing Harriet Tubman or the Westside. Purpose Built officials have said they look for a city's ability to raise funds and resident participation before deciding to work in a community.

But even if Tubman is chosen as a Purpose Built site, residents still must leave to prepare for revitalization.

Some Harriet Tubman residents have already moved or are in the process of moving to other public housing, said Anita Pickett, president of Tubman's Resident Association. About 250 families waiting on housing vouchers remain in the complex, she said.

"We're applying now for new vouchers for the families at Harriet Tubman," McCright said. "We don't have an exact number of vouchers yet, but it's probably going to be in the 250 to 300 voucher number."

The vouchers will pay all or at least a portion of a resident's rent. The resident can choose to live anywhere, in an apartment or home, where the property owner will accept the voucher as payment.

Pickett has taken photos of residents, CHA staff, Harriet Tubman visitors, even the community postal carrier, in an effort to document the relocation process.

"There's nothing we can do about it [having to move]," she said. "We can't stop it. The only thing we can do is adjust in a positive way. Everything has its season. This property has been here since 1950. Now it's our time to go."

Some residents have started looking forward to the move, Pickett said.

"People are asking, 'When are we going to get our voucher?'" she said. "They're eager to upgrade."

Young said she's not eager to leave and wants to remain in East Chattanooga after she gets her voucher.

"My brother says I've lived in the projects so long that I don't want anything better," she said. "In my opinion, this is perfect. I'm not trying to leave my environment. I'm trying to be a part of my community and make it work."