ORIGINAL STORY: There is resentment and confusion surrounding the sudden closure of Chatt City Suites in Chattanooga's Southside.
Some residents have lived in the extended-stay motel for a decade, according to the general manager. They have seen ownership changes, but they never led to eviction or a full-facility closure. When the property was sold about six years ago, they expected everything to largely be the same.
Internally, there were signs things would be changing.
Residents of the 141-room motel were informed two days after Christmas the property would be shut down. Each was given a letter notifying them a complete renovation would begin Jan. 15, and they needed to be moved out beforehand.
"Please make the necessary arrangements for your housing requirements after that date," the letter read. "I hope this will be enough time to find alternative accommodations."
The property was sold in February 2013 to a local company called MH95 LLC for $3.3 million, according to records from the Hamilton County assessor's office. Public records on the sale list little information about the company. There are no names or phone numbers. The only addresses are for two law firms in town.
The motel's general manager doesn't know the owners and said she hasn't spoken to them in the six years they've owned the building. They'll send out people to check on the property, but there is no direct contact between the owners and those who operate the facility.
"They just want it maintained as they bought it," general manager Joyce Woodard said. "They don't want improvements; they just wanted it maintained."
Messages are passed to staff through an intermediary. MH95 LLC uses another local company — Sunbest Management — to manage and communicate with staff. The management company used to own the property but sold it. A representative said the newest local owners are private and did not wish to offer further details.
Woodard and residents aren't sure what's going to be done with the property. The note says there will be a "complete renovation," but doesn't offer further details. Attempts to contact MH95 LLC were unsuccessful. When Woodard was notified the suites would be closing, it was done through the management company. They brought a notice to hand out to residents, she said.
Residents are openly upset. There is cursing of management in the corridors and disdain toward decision makers who are telling everyone to leave.
"Some people have been here a lot of years," Woodard said. "They call this place home."
Teneil Miller moved to Chattanooga for a better life.
She has a 15-year-old daughter. They came to Tennessee from Ohio nearly two years ago. She had met someone on the Internet who quickly became a friend. The friend, Darilyn Jones, said life would be easier in the South, so Miller took her daughter and moved.
The three lived in the suites for nine months. They were planning to stay longer but got the letter telling them to move.
"It was really kind of hard," Miller said. "We had to make sure we stayed somewhere in the area. [My daughter] goes right here to Howard. They kind of sprung it on us when we were getting ready to pay. They gave us that paper. It just kind of happened spur of the moment. No heads-up. I think they could have told us a month or two before so we didn't have to do everything so [fast]."
The mother, her daughter and the friend found another long-term stay in the Southside. The new place is smaller and will be crammed for the three women and their two cats. It also costs $300 extra per month — a steep increase for the women who are on welfare.
"We're lucky there's the two of us," Miller said. "Otherwise, we'd be messed up."
She had paid through Thursday. They were supposed to be out by 11 a.m. As morning turned to afternoon, they were trying to get the last of their belongings out of the room.
They didn't have a truck. They were trying to cram the belongings into her Honda, taking multiple trips to the new room. She needed help. If she had more notice and more support, the move would have been easier, Miller said. She really needed someone with a truck.
As she finished, a local man named Bill Miles from First-Centenary United Methodist Church pulled onto the property to help. He had a truck. Miller and friends loaded it up to finish the move.
"I'm just helping people. I work really for the church," he said. "I'm a Christian, man. I believe in God, and I believe in helping people."
While they finished, the general manager looked on, working to help others who needed places to stay.
Woodard turns 65 next month and had plans to retire. This will just accelerate that timeline, she said.
Public, private and religious organizations had been called to help find long-term housing for the residents in need. Some focused on families with children, others focused on veterans, some focused on the mentally ill and others on the elderly. Whatever the guest's status in life, there was an organization ready to help.
As Chattanooga is developed more and older facilities renovated or demolished, these are the places and the people being hurt.
"Southside is coming up; Southside is coming up," Woodard said. "It's growing. This town is growing. There's nowhere left to build on North Shore, so they have to come out to Southside."
Chattanooga's Housing Choice Voucher program is at capacity. The city is working off a waiting list, which is now closed. There is no public housing available to help those being told to leave Chatt City Suites.
It's a problem city officials are aware of and working to solve. They can't tell property owners or companies specifically what to do with their properties. If they want to raise prices, temporarily close or sell to a developer, they usually can. In many instances, the city encourages such growth and development. There are often tax breaks and incentives.
However, they're also aware of those negatively affected.
The city's housing authority has been onsite trying to connect Chatt City Suites' guests with private property owners with available low-income units.
Chattanooga's Interagency Council on Homelessness released a plan last month with long-term steps to ensure people aren't left without homes when things like this happen. There are programs to incentivize the building of low-income housing, and personnel in place to ensure low-income residents have places to live.
"What we're doing with the plan is to examine our system, see what systems we do have and work to optimize our existing resources while also seeing what new programs or assistance we need to create," said Sam Wolfe, the city's homeless program coordinator.