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Winifred Henry, right, and Fred Brown talk while dispersing food to public housing residents Thursday, March 2, 2017 at Dogwood Manor on Gateway Avenue.

Senior citizens living in one of the Westside high-rise buildings for the elderly are accusing the Chattanooga Housing Authority of increasing lock-out fees and not providing adequate laundry facilities.

The seniors say the housing authority is taking financial advantage of them because they are low-income residents.

"They think the elderly are not going to do anything," resident Winifred Henry said. "I'm 73 years old, but I'm what they call 'the new 50' and we speak out. We're not going to just take it."

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Winifred Henry, right, and Fred Brown look through names while dispersing food to public housing residents Thursday, March 2, 2017 at Dogwood Manor on Gateway Avenue.

Dogwood Manor Apartments residents held a meeting Wednesday just before the housing agency increased its after-hours lock-out fee from $33 to $46. The new after-hours lock-out fee is $4 less than the $50 minimum rent payment.

Fred Brown, president of Dogwood Manor, said some residents struggle just to pay the rent. And now, if they accidentally lock themselves out, they're really going to be in trouble.

The increased fee applies to all seniors in the housing authority's senior high-rise buildings.

Chattanooga Housing Authority officials say their increased fee isn't punitive but intended to cover expenses. It only applies on weekends and after-business hours during the week.

Executive Director Betsy McCright said housing officials have called maintenance workers three times in one night because residents have locked themselves out of their rooms. And sometimes calls come as early as 2 a.m., she said.

"It's really the staff expense of opening the doors," McCright said. "We have to pay for the time it takes for the maintenance person to drive to the building and open the door."

She said the housing agency started giving each resident two keys instead of one and suggested that they give the extra key to a trusted neighbor to avoid lock-outs. Giving residents two keys was in response to earlier concerns about lock-out cost when the fee was $33, McCright said.

Residents explained that apartment doors automatically lock when they leave their units.

"You're just cleaning up and you walk out to say something to a friend and you're trapped," Brown said.

Dogwood residents also complained about their laundry facilities.

The fee is $1.50 per load to wash. The amount residents pay to wash should generate enough money in a year to buy a new washing machine, Brown said.

"We've got a washroom where we pay more than any other facility on this hill," he said. "We've got a bunch of washers that always stay broke down."

McCright said the laundry equipment at Dogwood Manor is owned and operated by the housing authority, whereas the equipment at the other high-rise sites is provided by a third-party laundry service company.

She said one of the five washing machines at Dogwood recently was not working, but the machine has been replaced with a new one.

She said the charge per load at Dogwood is higher than the $1.35 charged at Boynton Terrace, but charges at both sites are below the market rate for comparable machines at $2.50 per load.

Brown said he wants the public to know residents' concerns in hopes that more of their issues will be addressed.

"We have lived long enough to understand when we're getting shafted," he said. "Where is the money going? We pay more and get less."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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