Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield warns Westside of waning federal funds for housing

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield warns Westside of waning federal funds for housing

February 22nd, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Chattanooga Housing Authority's Betsy McCright, left, writes down ideas from Westside residents during a brainstorming session at Tuesday's meeting. Mayor Ron Littlefield met with residents at the James A. Henry Resource Center on Tuesday afternoon to talk about future plans for the area's development.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

ReVisioning the Westside

As part of the community meeting about the Westside, participants offered answers to three specific questions:

How can we improve the physical/living environment?

How can we improve safety/security?

How can we improve the neighborhood in terms of education/children?

Residents talked about having more responsive police force, needing after-school programs and having mandatory neighborhood cleanups.

Federal support for public housing is dwindling, a reality people must face whether they like it or not, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told a group of Westside residents Tuesday.

"Every time the federal budget comes out we're afraid to look at it. ... All we can do is look at it and say, 'What are we going to do?'" Littlefield said.

The mayor called the meeting with Westside residents to get their ideas for their community's future and to explain declining financial federal support for housing.

"Don't walk out of here without giving us all of your thoughts," Littlefield said at the "ReVisioning the Westside" meeting.

About 75 people, including residents, Purpose Built representatives, members of the Regional Planning Agency and Chattanooga Organized for Action, participated.

A key issue in recent weeks has been a possibility that Purpose Built, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, could redevelop a public housing development in Chattanooga. The organization builds mixed-income housing developments as alternatives to traditional low-income public housing.

Some of the Westside's 2,800 residents are frustrated and worried about how a Purpose Built development would affect them and their community.

Longtime resident Gloria Griffith generated some applause when she asked Chattanooga Housing Authority officials if they knew where Westside residents would go if their homes are torn down. She said there already are 7,000 people on the waiting list for housing vouchers and other low-income public housing.

CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the agency to have a relocation plan before it can evacuate a development.

Purpose Built Vice President Carol Naughton spoke after residents expressed concerns about being displaced and unable to find housing alternatives.

"If you don't think you're interested in trying to improve educational outcomes for kids, trying to get better homes for families, trying to have a track where people get jobs that pay a living wage, then we're not for you," she said. "But if those are things that appeal to you, it's worth a conversation."

This wasn't the first time reducing public housing in the Westside has come up.

Former City Court Judge Walter Williams, who once lived in the Westside, said Tuesday that members of the Westside Community Development Corp. discussed ideas similar to Purpose Built's when he was on the board.

The corporation had intended to tear down some subsidized housing, build condominiums and offer former residents the opportunity to own them, he said. There also would have been single-family homes in the Westside. Currently there are no property owners in the Westside and that hinders some businesses from coming there, Williams said.

He said he's not an advocate for Purpose Built, but he did want to clarify some issues.

"It was never intended for people to live in public housing for the rest of their lives," Williams said. "All I'm saying is you've got to face reality."

Westside residents met at Renaissance Presbyterian Church after the meeting to talk more.