Chattanooga's Westside residents protest sale of public housing properties

Chattanooga's Westside residents protest sale of public housing properties

February 9th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Gloria Griffith, a Westside resident for over 40 years, speaks at a news conference held outside Renaissance Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. The residents were speaking in opposition to Purpose Built Communities' proposition to revise their community.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Westside residents say they don't want "Purpose Built" in their community and they're asking other public housing residents to stand with them against the destruction of more public housing sites.

"We are gathered here today to ... let the city know that the Westside, and all public housing throughout the city, is not for sale," Gloria Griffith said Wednesday.

Griffith stood with nearly a dozen Westside residents and members of Chattanooga Organized for Action to oppose the Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities coming to Chattanooga.

"We, the poor and working-class people, the people of color, the elderly, the youth and young adults and disabled of this community and across the city have been uprooted, moved and marched around this city for far too long," said Griffith. "At the whims of developers and businessmen, we have continually lost our communities and our homes."

Griffith is among 2,481 residents, according to the 2010 census, living in a neighborhood made of eight subsidized housing sites. Those are three high-rise apartments for the elderly plus College Hill Courts, the largest public housing site in the city. All are owned or managed by the Chattanooga Housing Authority.

Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit, began visiting the city at the invitation of Mayor Ron Littlefield in December to discuss establishing its mixed-income housing model for neighborhood revitalization.

Purpose Built Communities Vice President Carol R. Naughton visited the city this month for a presentation to the City Council's Housing Committee.

"Fundamentally, what we want to do is figure out strategies to help families break the cycle of poverty and at the same time create healthy and sustainable neighborhoods for everybody to live in," said Naughton.

The Westside is one of three sites city officials have mentioned as a possible location if Purpose Built Communities comes. The others are Harriet Tubman in East Chattanooga and the vacant former Maurice Poss Homes site in Alton Park.

John Hayes, a local volunteer for Purpose Built Communities, said the organization's leaders haven't decided it would come to the Westside. When and if a decision is made, residents will be included, said Hayes.

Westside resident Adair Darland said Purpose Built sounds as if it could be a great asset to Chattanooga, but she doesn't want it to put people out of their homes.

She and other Westside residents are taking an active approach to defending their homes, she said.

"If they move everybody out of here, logistically where are they going?" said Darland. "There are no roofs to put them under. If there were, then 7,000 people wouldn't be on a waiting list looking for housing."

According to the Chattanooga Housing Authority's 2012 Agency Plan, 1,944 people are on the waiting list for public housing and more than 5,000 people are on the waiting list for Housing Choice Vouchers.

More than 700 units of public housing have been eliminated in Chattanooga since 1999. Of the housing units still standing, several need repairs.

Darland said she would prefer to see Purpose Built go to the Harriet Tubman site, where the people already are being displaced.

Westside resident Karl Epperson said he wants to see a building built before people are moved, and he wants a contract that for every housing unit torn down, another housing unit will be built.

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