Despite angry, ongoing opposition even after several meetings with Chattanooga residents, Mayor Ron Littlefield says he is "not backing off at all" on a proposed plan for a mixed-use community that could replace public housing complexes.
"I'm going to continue to push it because I know it's an absolute necessity," he said Monday after another meeting with residents. "I'm not backing off at all."
Chattanooga will continue talking with representatives from the nonprofit Purpose Built Communities even as the Chattanooga Housing Authority faces mounting pressure to abandon any plans of business with the Atlanta-based organization.
Littlefield maintained Monday that CHA must keep a line of communication open with Purpose Built because of the decline of federal money available for public housing.
But one CHA official said Monday that the housing authority was not chasing after Purpose Built, even though officials from the nonprofit have been to Chattanooga five times in the last four months.
"I'm not sure we ever tried to pursue it," said Eddie Holmes, chairman of the CHA board. "We're going to look at all of our options."
CHA held an informational meeting Monday at its administrative offices on Holtzclaw Avenue. About 100 people showed up and wrote questions on cards put on tables beforehand. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, CEO of Purpose Built, and Carol Naughton, vice president of Purpose Built, attended Monday's meeting and fielded questions for almost 45 minutes.
Westside residents and others opposed to Purpose Built also have attended meetings with the nonprofit and the City Council.
The general consensus after the meeting was that there are still many unanswered questions.
"There were some things that bothered me," said the Rev. Leroy Griffith, a Westside resident.
At one point, CHA officials said several of their properties have been on the chopping block for almost five years, but Griffith said he did not think many people in the communities even knew that.
The plan by Purpose Built has been in contention for several months after it surfaced that CHA could be looking at the nonprofit's redevelopment model in Chattanooga. CHA officials say there are three possible sites -- College Hill Courts on the Westside, Harriet Tubman or East Lake Courts.
Many Westside residents think College Hill Courts could be the prime target because of its prime location near downtown and along the Tennessee River.
CHA officials stressed in Monday's meeting that they have no plans at this point to build a Purpose Built Community and insist they are only educating themselves on the project.
They said they must consider a Purpose Built Community because of a diminishing pot of funding from the federal government. CHA received $3.3 million in capital funding this year, a decrease of 7 percent from last year, while the year before saw a 14 percent decrease in capital funding.
Toward the end of the meeting, Joe Clark, president of the Boynton Terrace Residents Council, questioned a statement Naughton made earlier that compared the various meetings between CHA and Purpose Built as "dating" and that things would have to progress before it goes to "marriage."
"I keep hearing this is a marriage," Clark said. "Is this a shotgun marriage?"
Franklin said the nonprofit would only come to Chattanooga if all parties agreed to be involved, including Purpose Built. But she said they are talking to CHA because of the drop in federal funding and the authority's inability to rehab College Hill Courts or East Lake Courts, both of which are deteriorating.
Rehabilitating the complexes would cost almost $88 million, CHA officials estimate.
"We see the same writing on the wall as your housing authority," Franklin said.
At least one resident stood up and voiced support for a Purpose Built Community.
Tonya Rooks, president of the College Hills Courts Residents Council, said she can see the good things the community can offer, especially with education and schools -- key parts of the community.
"I live in College Hills now," she said, "but I don't plan on living there forever."
Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.