The Chattanooga Housing Authority has hired more than a dozen part-time workers to fix up public housing in anticipation of federal inspections.
The goal is to score well on the Public Housing Assessment System and get off the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's list of troubled public housing agencies.
Inspections start this month and are to continue through the end of the year.
But CHA board member James Sattler challenged CHA staff on its practice of preparing buildings for HUD and called for more effort to maintain the apartments year round.
"Why are we just making this sudden move to get a higher score?" Sattler asked at a recent board meeting. "Why aren't we maintaining our properties that way initially?"
CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said CHA doesn't have enough money to maintain the buildings on a regular basis.
"That's one of our biggest challenges," she said, "to be given less money and asked to do more."
Housing officials hired 14 temporary workers for 60 days to help "clean up some of the problems that we know are going to down our score," said Doug Wrinn, development project manager.
Workers are painting, repairing leaking roofs, checking smoke detectors and repairing holes in buildings at each of CHA's 15 sites.
CHA officials say they're most concerned about the older sites such as East Lake Courts, built in the 1940s; College Hill Courts, built in the late 1930s; and Harriet Tubman, built in the 1950s and '60s. Those are the oldest and largest properties and carry the most weight in scoring, and they have the biggest operational needs, officials said.
The Tubman site has buildings in such ill repair that housing officials have said it would cost $33 million to bring it up to good condition. Instead, CHA officials want to sell or demolish the site.
At the board meeting, Wrinn noted that HUD has changed some of its expectations concerning upkeep, possibly making it more difficult to maintain the buildings at federal standards.
But Sattler wasn't satisfied.
"What I'm basically saying," said Sattler, "is why don't we maintain the buildings to the level of not what HUD expects them to be, but what we expect them to be?"
Sattler and CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes suggested using public housing residents to do some of the repairs, giving them the opportunity to show pride in their community and to avoid hiring outside workers.
McCright said residents aren't allowed to do the work that is usually performed by hired staff.