Chattanooga Housing Authority Executive Director Betsy McCright will speak to Westside residents at their Westside Community Association meeting at 5:30 p.m. today. The meeting is scheduled at Renaissance Presbyterian Church at 1211 Boynton Drive.
A Chattanooga Housing Authority official had a curt response Wednesday to Mayor Ron Littlefield's recent assertion that he will not back off from his plan for a mixed-use community on a public housing site in the city.
"We're the ones that have to drive the ship. It's the housing authority's property that we're talking about," CHA Vice Chairman Jim Sattler said Wednesday.
Because CHA owns the housing sites, it will decide whether anyone is allowed to build on them, Sattler said.
The mayor has been in discussions with Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta based nonprofit, about building a new community on the site of the College Hill Courts or Harriet Tubman public housing complexes.
Richard Beeland, spokesperson for the mayor, agreed that the Chattanooga Housing Authority will make the final decision on the future of public housing sites in the city, but other Chattanooga officials and residents can give input.
"Mayor Littlefield invited Purpose Built because he knows that something is going to have to happen to those properties," said Beeland. "No one seems to believe that something is going to happen to those properties and we're going to have to do something."
Both the mayor and CHA officials have said the city's public housing complexes are deteriorating and there is not enough money to fix them, especially since the federal government is reducing the amount of money it gives for such repairs.
Sattler made the comments after a housing authority board meeting Wednesday, saying he was upset after reading a Times Free Press headline quoting Littlefield saying "I won't back off" on his pursuit of Purpose Built.
CHA held a meeting in its central offices Monday to share with residents the state of public housing in the city and also to let residents know they had a say in the decision process, Sattler said, the housing authority has made no decision on whether to pursue Purpose Built's proposal for a mixed-use community with homes, businesses and possibly schools.
CHA asked Purpose Built representatives to attend the meeting to explain what their overall services are.
"We didn't say we're committed to them. We said we weren't," Sattler said.
CHA already is closing and trying to sell the Harriet Tubman complex, the second-largest in the city with 440 units, because it has deteriorated past the point of being able to repair.
CHA Vice President of Development Naveed Minhas said public housing complexes such as the 497-unit College Hill Courts and the 417-unit East Lake Courts -- which is not part of the Purpose Built proposal -- are deteriorating, too, and their lifespan depends on the conditions of the individual buildings. If deterioration starts happening too quickly, if the sewers don't work, if the roofs start leaking and CHA has no money to fix them, "we will have to approach the board for a similar decision," Minhas said.
"What happened at Tubman is that the roof started leaking," he said. "We came to the board and said we need to move forward with the disposition. We had no money to spend on it, so we started boarding up the [leaky] units. The same thing or similar thing will happen at East Lake and at College Hill."
The Rev. Leroy Griffith, a longtime Westside resident, the community where College Hill Courts is located, said his concern is that the City Council and the housing authority are not seriously considering some resident-driven suggestions for preserving public housing, such as allowing residents to do some of the repairs or collect donations from local hardware stores to offset maintenance costs.
"It seems like every time we give solutions, all they want to hear from us is answers to their questions," Griffith said. "We believe the residents, if properly empowered by the city or the housing authority, could solve the problem."