Chatt City Suites was largely empty Wednesday morning. Most of the residents of the 141-room motel had already moved. A crew working for the facility cleared rooms and began taking almost everything to a warehouse off Bonny Oaks Drive.
Doors were removed and loaded into a U-Haul trailer; the green railings lining the outdoor corridors and stairs would soon be torn out. Televisions, refrigerators and microwaves sat outside, ready to be transported. The heating and air units were hammered out of wooden frames as guests checked out.
Two days after Christmas, those living at the motel on East 20th Street near downtown were told they had two weeks to get out. The owners wanted to do a complete renovation.
City groups, nonprofit organizations, churches and others came to aid. There was concern many living in the low-income units would become homeless. The Chattanooga Housing Authority released vouchers to help offset rent prices, but said it needed more than two weeks to help residents find places to live. They got it as owners and the company that manages the facility gave residents until Wednesday to move. Most residents found permanent housing and used vouchers to offset the costs. Those who didn't moved to another long-term stay motel by choice.
"We are so appreciative to the manager of the Chatt City Suites for working with us to extend the deadline," CHA Executive Director Elizabeth McCright said in a statement. "Working together, we've been able to find suitable long-term housing for those impacted by the displacement. We're also very appreciative to landlords across Hamilton County who've come forward to partner with us in accepting vouchers that will pay market-rate rents at their properties."
The extended-stay motel served as a first line of defense for those seeking shelter after being forced from other housing across the city. Residents moved there when the Economy Inn was abruptly shut down by police and when Patten Towers caught on fire, displacing 241 residents.
"We were the go-to place," Chatt City Suites general manager Joyce Woodard said Wednesday as work on the facility continued.
Woodard will oversee the crew moving items to the warehouse over the next week before another construction crew comes in and begins renovations. Then she'll retire.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, only 14 residents remained in the facility.
Those left were the folks who hadn't gotten their voucher paperwork completed in time and were on a waiting list. The paperwork required documents that some of the residents didn't have, according to Woodard.
Several came into the motel's office to talk to Woodard and put the final touches on their moves.
"It's gone smoothly," she said, relieved, pulling out a contact sheet with more than a dozen organizations that had helped with the moves.
All had worked tirelessly to ensure everyone had a place to go.
Juanita Leverett, 72, walked outside through the frigid air as the final guests carried some items out of their rooms.
She had lived in the suites since August of last year with her sister, who had since moved. Leverett was just waiting on her niece and nephew to arrive later that afternoon. They would help her gather her belongings and move to an apartment on Grove Street Court.
"I'm fine with [having to leave]," she said. "I'm just glad I got somewhere to go."