Campaign to restore public housing in Chattanooga

Campaign to restore public housing in Chattanooga

March 11th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Westside residents gather Saturday morning at a meeting at Renaissance Presbyterian Church on Boynton Drive in Chattanooga. The Westside residents were getting ready to go door-to-door in other public housing developments to ask people to sign a petition asking that any public housing units demolished in the city be replaced.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.


The Chattanooga Housing Authority is scheduled to give an update on the state of public housing in Chattanooga at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the City Council Chamber, 1000 Lindsay St. The public is invited to attend but there will be no opportunity for public comment.

The Westside Community Association and Chattanooga Organized for Action took their "public housing is not for sale" campaign to the streets Saturday, knocking on doors and asking residents in East Lake Courts, the city's third-largest public housing development, to join in the fight to save their homes.

Dozens of public housing residents and supporters signed a petition Saturday demanding unit-for-unit replacement of every public housing property demolished.

"The main demand is building for building, apartment for apartment," said Westside resident Karl Epperson.

Markalla Ford, a 14-year-old public housing resident, is among those who signed the petition.

"People need somewhere to stay, and everybody can't afford to pay lights and water," Ford said.

The number of public housing units in Chattanooga shrank by 750 between 1999 and 2011, from 3,692 to 2,942. Further reductions are planned, including the 440 units that will be vacated at the Harriet Tubman development. CHA officials say they don't have funds to demolish the site and it's too costly to repair, so they're putting Harriet Tubman, the city's second-largest housing site, up for sale.

The Westside's College Hill Courts, the largest public housing site with 497 units, is among the locations that city officials have eyed as a place for a Purpose Built mixed-income community. Purpose Built is an Atlanta-based nonprofit.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has directed the reduction in public housing as part of a nationwide shift in emphasis to mixed-income housing as the new model for public housing. The goal is to create more financially sustainable housing and to break up dense concentrations of poverty.

Yet inevitably, it means that fewer units are available for public housing residents.

The issue is coming to a head now because of the potential proposal to replace the Westside's low-income complexes with mixed-income homes along with promises of a new school and businesses.

College Hill Courts is among four sites in the Westside managed or owned by the Chattanooga Housing Authority. Four other sites are privately owned but also offer government-subsidized housing.

The Westside is among the sites specifically named as potential locations for Purpose Built. The former Maurice Poss Homes site in Alton Park, now demolished, also has been named along with the Harriet Tubman housing development in East Chattanooga.

The Westside residents and COA will lead a march on April 3 from Renaissance Presbyterian Church to the City Council meeting to present the residents' petition to have unit-per-unit replacement for public housing.

CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright will give a presentation about the state of public housing at the City Council committee meeting Tuesday. Representatives of Purpose Built and Mayor Ron Littlefield also are expected to attend.

Westside residents and COA planned their door-to-door "public housing is not for sale" campaign after Purpose Built gave a presentation to the city about its model for mixed-income housing communities.

Housing officials say funding for public housing is decreasing and they no longer have the money to repair all of its units. The mayor is presenting Purpose Built as an option for at least some public housing.

COA has said the city should talk to Westside residents to get ideas from them concerning housing options for the community.

Westside resident Adair Darland said she's not opposed to Purpose Built, but she wants to know more about the nonprofit's plan for people who are displaced.

"If it's going to improve the lives of our people, I'm in favor of that, but not if it's going to put people on the street," she said. "I just can't see where all of these thousands of people are going. I'm 70 years old. Where am I going to go?"

Westside residents are concerned that the plan to decrease public housing without replacing the same amount will leave some residents without homes. About 2,800 residents live in the Westside.

"Public housing is being replaced with mixed-income homes that low-income families cannot afford," according to a "Fight for your home!" brochure published by COA.

Some residents who would prefer public housing are living in extended-stay hotels because they can't go anywhere else. Other people are living in hotels with Section 8 vouchers because they can't find a landlord to accept them, said Westside resident Gloria Griffith.

Except for College Hill Courts, all 15 of the Chattanooga Housing Authority sites are closed to new residents. And the units in College Hill Courts are being reserved for residents vacating Harriet Tubman.

Nearly 1,500 people are already on the waiting list for public housing. Another 5,000 wait for Section 8 according to CHA's 2012 Agency plan.