Chattanooga's Westside residents to speak out today on Purpose Built Communities

Chattanooga's Westside residents to speak out today on Purpose Built Communities

February 8th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

College Hill Courts is located off of Grove Street in Chattanooga, Tenn. The government housing complex is part of the Westside Community that might undergo revitalization through Purpose Built Communities.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.


What: News conference about Purpose Built Communities

When: 11 a.m. today

Where: Presbyterian Renaissance Presbyterian Church, 1211 Boynton Drive

Jocelyn Johnson wanted to ask a question about the future of College Hill Courts, the largest public housing site in the city, but she had to stop crying first.

"I'm a mother of three kids," she said. "I've been through programs after programs. I want to know what is going to happen to us when they tear [College Hill Courts] down."

Johnson is among dozens of Westside residents troubled about the future of public housing and what will happen if the Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities brings its model for community revitalization to Chattanooga.

Westside residents and the group Chattanooga Organized for Action are hosting a news conference today to express concern about Purpose Built, which has said it might build a mixed-use housing complex in Chattanooga. College Hill Courts is one of the possible sites, but city officials also have listed the Harriet Tubman housing development in East Chattanooga and the former Maurice Poss Homes land near Alton Park.

"[We] will be hosting a press conference to announce that public housing is not for sale and that Purpose Built Communities is not invited and not welcome by public housing residents in Chattanooga," said Westside resident Gloria Griffith in a news release.

"Westside residents and community activists will be launching a campaign to educate public housing residents in areas all over the city about the intended purposeful gentrification of low income communities," Griffith said.

But Westside residents may be jumping the gun with alarm about Purpose Built, according to some local officials.

"No one has made a decision to tear anything down," said Purpose Built representative John Hayes. "The only decision made is to tear down Harriet Tubman."

Officials with the Chattanooga Housing Authority, which owns Tubman, the city's second-largest public housing site, have said it will either be sold or left vacant. Starting in 2010, CHA officials said the rapidly aging complex, built in 1963, would cost too much to renovate.

When it comes to Purpose Built, Hayes said, the community should discuss what it might mean to have such a community, rather than closing off the conversations.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "is not going to fund the rehabilitation of public housing," he said. "Until we can look at how we can bring together other investments and not just turn to the federal government, we won't be able to solve the problems in the low-income community."

But residents are still fearful about the future of public housing. Several public housing sites have been demolished and the sites replacing them have fewer units, said Karl Epperson, a Westside resident of at least 15 years.

Between 1999 and 2011, the number of public housing units in the city shrank from 3,692 to 2,952.

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