Purpose Built Communities goes from full boil to back burner in Chattanooga

Purpose Built Communities goes from full boil to back burner in Chattanooga

June 19th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

West side resident Leroy Griffith questions a city council member during a meeting at Renaissance Presbyterian Church in this April 2012 file photo.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you support Purpose Built Communities coming to Chattanooga?

Suddenly, the Purpose Built Communities conversation has gone silent.

A flurry of activity followed a proposal in December to bring the Atlanta-based nonprofit to Chattanooga to help redevelop the Westside neighborhood. But the plan quickly ran into a groundswell of opposition, and nothing has happened since the Chattanooga Housing Authority met with Purpose Built representatives in April, according to CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright.

While the plan -- which could replace local public housing with a mixed-use community of homes, businesses and schools -- seems to be in a holding pattern, it isn't dead, said Purpose Built and city officials. Among the housing sites mentioned for replacement is College Hill Courts in the Westside.

"There are no additional meetings scheduled. No decisions have been made, and it remains much too early to know whether Chattanooga will launch a neighborhood revitalization initiative following the Purpose Built framework," said Carol Naughton, vice president of Purpose Built.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said, "If and when the Chattanooga Housing Authority decides to do something, and the residents decide to do something and they think that the Purpose Built model is a model that they would like to use, then I'm sure that they will make that decision.

"But until then, until everyone that's involved makes that decision, we can't make it," he said.

Meanwhile, people once opposed to Purpose Built now are saying the group might not be so bad.

Roxann Larson, president of the Dogwood Manor Resident Association, questioned the nonprofit when representatives visited Chattanooga, but after thinking more about it, she said Purpose Built may be worth considering.

"I don't think they're the bad guy," she said. "I think they're just the catalyst. They're trying to show us a way to rebuild with mixed income, and they said it worked for the other cities."

"I'm afraid the demolition of College Hill Courts is something that's going to happen anyway because there have been so many HUD budget cuts," Larson said.

CHA officials have said College Hill Courts is deteriorating, and the authority doesn't have the money to repair it fully.

The Rev. Leroy Griffith, a Westside resident and a minister at Presbyterian Renaissance Church in the community, said he wouldn't be opposed to Purpose Built's proposal if it agreed to build a new unit of low-income housing for each unit that is torn down and if it agreed to replace each low-income building that is demolished.

Griffith submitted a petition to City Councilman Andrae McGary this month, asking him to submit it to the City Council. The petition requests that council members amend the city's zoning code by Sept. 1, 2012, to require that at least 10 percent of the units in every new apartment complex be allocated for low-income housing.

Purpose Built also may bring some national attention to Chattanooga over public housing.

Westside residents Griffith, Larson and Michael Hutchins said they have been contacted this month by media representatives with the CNBC network and asked questions about the nonprofit.

At the invitation of Littlefield, Purpose Built came to Chattanooga in December 2011 to present its housing model as a solution to Chattanooga housing officials and others concerned about low-income housing.

CHA officials have said that the city's largest public housing sites have become too costly to repair because it will cost about $88 million to rehabilitate the units.

But instead of getting more money to help with renovation, federal funding has been decreasing. This year, CHA is receiving $3.3 million in federal funds, a 7 percent decrease from 2011 and a 14 percent decrease in funding from 2010, according to CHA officials.

CHA has been relocating residents from Harriet Tubman, once the second-largest public housing site in the city, because the housing authority doesn't have the money needed to bring the units up to standard. Only 40 families remain on the site that once housed more than 400 households.

CHA also said that College Hill Courts and East Lake Courts off Fourth Avenue, the city's largest and oldest sites, soon will be in as bad a shape as Harriet Tubman if nothing is done.

Up until now, several low-income housing residents and their supporters have made it no secret that they don't want Purpose Built. More than 1,000 public housing residents and public housing advocates signed a petition in March stating that they wanted no more public housing units destroyed. And for every public housing unit that is demolished, they want a public housing unit built to replace it.

Local housing officials said no decision has been made on Purpose Built, but they are going to start looking at other options.

"It's kind of just void right now," said Jim Sattler, CHA board's vice chairman. "I would expect us to start looking at other groups at some point."

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