The Chattanooga Housing Authority has entered a voluntary compliance agreement with HUD that requires it to spend at least $1.4 million to make public housing more accessible to residents with physical disabilities.
"This is a good thing," said Betsy McCright, CHA's executive director. "Baby boomers are aging, and we anticipate more disabled people in the future. People will be living longer and will need more accommodations to have a better quality of life."
CHA entered the agreement in April after a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development review revealed that some people with disabilities had trouble accessing common areas and housing units.
Under the agreement, the housing authority will make 83 of its 2,875 public housing units more handicap-accessible within four years. Of the 83 units, 44 will be refitted for people with limited mobility and 39 for people with hearing or vision disabilities. CHA officials estimate the cost will be at least $15,000 a unit.
Housing officials got new sensory equipment for the Cromwell Hills management office in May. The Sorenson video relay system uses television between caller and recipient.
People such as Christopher Craig, who is deaf, can call the management office and see the person they are talking to, which helps lip-reading or sign language.
"It's good for emergencies," Craig said through sign language.
Cromwell Hills housing manager Connie Fischer and maintenance tech Fernando Garzo know sign language.
Craig is one of two hearing-impaired residents at the site. His unit was refitted in 2005 to accommodate his needs, including lights linked to his fire alarm that blink when the alarm sounds. Another light blinks when his doorbell rings. Some of these devices will be included in other audio sensory units.
"We're broadening the tenant base that we can serve," said Eddie Holmes, CHA's board chairman. "We want to be in compliance and do the right thing for this whole segment of our community."
CHA estimates it has about 1,657 residents receiving Social Security disability payments, but because of privacy laws, officials say they don't know exactly how many people are physically handicapped.
HUD conducted a review in 2009 and visited 14 sites. Nine sites had violations, including a cracked office ramp at College Hill Courts, counters too high in the Boynton office and an inaccessible sink and soap dispenser in the restroom of the community room at Cromwell Hills.
The review also found some disabled people living in standard units while some handicap-accessible units were rented to people without disabilities.
Since then, CHA has made several improvements, including making 18 units at Boynton handicap-accessible.
The agency also put handicap-accessible parking spaces at the College Hill Courts office, repainted parking symbols on the ground at Boynton Terrace and made kitchen sinks wheelchair-accessible for two units at Greenwood Terrace.
"We can't accommodate everybody, but we can accommodate as best as we can," Holmes said. "We need to at least show forth a good effort to accommodate our tenants who require those services."