Chattanooga Housing Authority officials don't know what the future holds for their three largest and oldest public housing sites, but CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright says the housing agency wants to put the minds of seniors at ease.
No CHA-owned senior housing site on the Westside will be destroyed even if a proposed mixed-income housing revitalization plan comes to the community, she said last week in an interview.
But emotions are running so high over the possible mixed-income proposal that even positive news has a hard time being heard.
McCright has been visiting all of CHA's senior sites to deliver news concerning its possible purchase of Dogwood Manor - the one senior housing site on the Westside not owned by CHA - and to ease seniors' concerns in public housing about being put out of their homes.
"The message to Westside residents is we're trying to expand our public housing portfolio by acquiring that building," said McCright. "We may not be the one who gets the award, but we're in the running."
But at the Westside Community Association meeting Thursday, residents had so many concerns about saving College Hill Courts and past practices of the housing authority that the future of Dogwood Manor was barely mentioned.
City Council Chairwoman Pamela Ladd said she hasn't seen the proposals yet, but the city knows CHA.
"CHA is responsible for our other housing here in Chattanooga, and I think that would be a good complement and a good fit if they would take that ownership," she said.
However, Councilman Russell Gilbert spoke for the concern of several residents.
"How can you put a bid in to buy a facility while you're closing down facilities because you have no money to keep them up?" he said in an interview Saturday. "That money could be used to at least start repairs on College Hill Courts."
CHA owns the 250-unit Boynton Terrace, the largest public housing senior high-rise in the city, and 132-unit Gateway, both of which are in the Westside. That's the prime area being considered for revitalization in conjunction with the Atlanta-based nonprofit Purpose Built Communities. The plan would result in the demolition of College Hill Courts and construction of a new community.
On March 30, the housing agency also put in a bid to purchase the 136-unit Dogwood Manor, which is owned by the city. The contract to purchase the building says it must be used for affordable housing until 2026.
CHA officials declined to state the amount of their bid for the building, but in 2005 it was appraised at $4.5 million.
CHA's is one of three competing bids for the property.
Chattanooga officials say they expect to recommend a buyer for Dogwood Manor before the end of April. The recommendation then will be sent to City Council for approval, and a final decision about Dogwood should come within two months, said Dan Thomas, the city's director of general services.
If CHA gets ownership of Dogwood, McCright said it would secure the high-rise as public housing and the housing authority would use its capital funds and replacement housing money to do a $4.5 million renovation to the building.
CHA board chairman Eddie Holmes said CHA taking ownership and turning the complex into public housing would mean that the 136 vouchers that now go with the site could be used to house 136 more families.
Dogwood Resident Council President Roxann Larson said she wants CHA to purchase the building so it can be brought up to standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She said she'd also like the elevators upgraded, but she is concerned about even the temporary relocation of residents for the proposed renovation.
McCright said seniors in the 153-unit high-rise Mary Walker Towers near Alton Park are also safe from being relocated. However, the future for the 497-unit College Hill Courts and the 417-unit East Lake Courts, both built in the 1940s, isn't so certain, she said. They could end up in the same boat as the Harriet Tubman complex, which is being emptied of residents because it is too deteriorated and too expensive for CHA to repair.
"If we receive no additional money, then I can only imagine that College Hill and East Lake will go the way of Harriet Tubman at some point as the building starts to decline," said McCright. "We'll have to close them down and not be able to dedicate the funding necessary to make them habitable."
CHA is facing the same issues as housing authorities across the country, which are decreasing public housing units because of lack of funding to maintain them. Chattanooga has lost 750 units of public housing in the past 13 years, excluding the 440 units that are being emptied at Harriet Tubman.
Around the country, about 10,000 units of public housing a year have been lost in the same time span, according to HUD. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 200,000 public housing units have been demolished or sold since 1995.
Atlanta became the first major city to eliminate all of its large housing projects in 2010. Thousands of public housing units have also been lost in large cities such as Chicago and San Antonio, Texas, according to news reports.
Among the questions directed to McCright Thursday night was a proposal already put forth by residents that they say could help defray CHA costs for maintenance and repairs.
Westside resident Karl Epperson asked about getting skilled assistance from people in labor unions and taking donations from Lowes and ACE to lower maintenance costs at CHA properties.
McCright said it was the first time she had been asked the question face to face. She said if the residents wrote up a proposal, she would take it to board members for consideration.