While 2,000 people wait for public housing in Chattanooga, new apartments sit mostly vacant

While 2,000 people wait for public housing in Chattanooga, new apartments sit mostly vacant

September 10th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Vacant living spaces await habitation at Maple Hills Apartments in East Chattanooga. The complex had its grand opening on July 18, yet only a few homes in the Chattanooga Housing Authority and Pennrose Properties development are occupied nearly two months later.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

SEE THE PLAN

Chattanooga Housing Authority's 2013 Agency Plan is available at each public housing site, at CHA's main office at 801 N. Holtzclaw Ave. and online at www.chahousing.org. Comments about the plan may be sent to Laverne Neal at CHA's main office. The board will vote on the plan at its next board meeting, scheduled for Sept. 25.

INCOME LIMITS

According to income limits for Maple Hills set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a single person can make up to $32,400 a year and qualify for residency. A two-person household can make up to $37,000.

A person in low-income tax credit housing may earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income adjusted for household size, or about $24,300 a year for a single person. Rent will be set at one-third of a tenant's income.

Maple Hills

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

While nearly 2,000 people wait for public housing in Chattanooga, dozens of brand-new apartments built for them sit empty week after week.

Maple Hills, an $8.7 million, 48-unit site -- the city's newest -- had its grand opening July 18. Penn-rose Properties, the private company that manages the site on behalf of the Chattanooga Housing Authority, says 25 percent of the units have been leased.

On Friday -- seven weeks since opening day -- Jennifer Webb, Pennrose Management Co.'s regional vice president, said seven tenants are on site, and more are expected to move in this week.

However, it could be up to two more months before all the units are leased, said Mark Straub, development manager for Pennrose Properties.

Stricter tenant rules, lost applications and other administrative issues may have contributed to the delays at Maple Hills, Pennrose officials and prospective tenants say.

CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes said he knows there is need for the housing, and he doesn't understand why the Maple Hills units aren't all occupied by now.

"There are folks looking for a place to stay. They should be filled," he said.

It took only about a month to fill the majority of the 18 units at Fairmount, a new public housing development that opened in May in North Chattanooga, said CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright. That site is managed by CHA.

However, McCright noted that Fairmount is strictly public housing, and CHA wasn't hampered by the requirements that go along with the low-income tax credits and housing vouchers associated with some of the Maple Hills units.

Residents who live in Maple Hills and Fairmount Apartments must agree to smoke only in designated areas on the public housing property and not in their apartments. Tenants also must agree to participate in the housing authority's Upward Mobility program to become more self-sufficient.

Such requirements caused delays in leasing Fairmount because some potential residents didn't want to agree to them, housing officials said.

Of the 48 units at Maple Hills, 33 are public housing, and 15 are funded by low-income tax credits and are available to tenants with government-issued housing vouchers.

Straub said the biggest barrier to leasing Maple Hills is the time it takes to complete income and background checks and other tasks to fulfill all the governmental and administrative requirements.

Failure to meet funding requirements or conduct proper income and background checks could result in problems down the road, Straub said.

McCright said in an email that "it is CHA's understanding that Pennrose is diligently conducting screening as required by tax credit regulations, as well as [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] Housing Choice Voucher Program regulations."

Holmes said he understands the responsibility, but the process needs to move more quickly.

Meanwhile, people waiting for public housing do the best they can, some staying with relatives, others in shelters and some even under a bridge or other place that's warm and dry.

A homeless mother of two is among hundreds of people on the waiting list. Loretta Tate, 32, has been in and out of shelters with her 5- and 8-year-old sons since her home in the government-subsidized Woodlawn Apartments burned in 2010. She said she wants to live at Maple Hills.

"If I had a house, I could get back organized, go back to school and get my education," said Tate, who wants to pursue a nursing degree.

CHA's 2013 Agency Plan underscores the need for more public housing. According to the plan, there are 1,814 people on the low-income public housing waiting list.

"The waiting list for public housing is equal to 81 percent of the current occupied number of units," the plan says. "This demonstrates the critical demand for affordable housing that appears to be growing."

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