published Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Crime concerns raised over planned Tubman closure

Jesse Phillips looks down the street from her Menlo Park residence. Phillips is concerned about about the possibility of crime increasing with former Harriet Tubman residents relocating to her North Brainerd community. 
Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Jesse Phillips looks down the street from her Menlo Park residence. Phillips is concerned about about the possibility of crime increasing with former Harriet Tubman residents relocating to her North Brainerd community. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press


The Chattanooga Housing Authority has demolished four of its public housing developments in recent years. That leaves a total of 16 sites owned or managed by CHA.

* Spencer J. McCallie Homes: demolished 2001-2003

* Rev. H.J. Johnson Apartments: 2005

* Maurice Poss Homes: 2005

* Harriet Tubman Development: 60 units demolished in 2005

* Fairmount Avenue Apartments: 2010

* Harriet Tubman: sale or demolition proposed by 2013 pending HUD approval


* What: Next meeting of Chattanooga Housing Authority board

* When: 12:30 p.m. May 10

* Where: Chattanooga Housing Authority central office, 801 N. Holtzclaw Ave

Harriet Tubman residents and surrounding homeowners warn that closing the public housing development as planned could cause crime to spread in residential areas from North Brainerd to Alton Park and set the stage for new violence among rival gangs.

“It’s going to be war,” said Tubman resident Jessica Drew.

They say they’ve seen it happen before.

Jesse Phillips, 75, said her Menlo Street neighborhood in North Brainerd, about three miles from Harriet Tubman, was a nice community occupied mostly by senior citizens when she moved there in 1966.

Since then, though, it has become more infiltrated with people participating in criminal activity, and the closure or demolition of other Chattanooga public housing sites helped to feed the problem, she said.

Problems started in the late 1980s with the closing of the privately owned Citico Apartments, she said. Then the city’s largest public housing site, Spencer J. McCallie Homes with nearly 1,000 residents, was demolished in 2002 and Poss Homes, with about 500 residents, closed three years later.

With each closure, Phillips said she saw more crime in her neighborhood.

“It used to be a calm neighborhood,” she said. “Now we have gangs walking through intimidating people.”

Chattanooga police Officer Tetzel Tillary, who once patrolled Maurice Poss Homes and now patrols the area around the East Lake Courts public housing complex on Fourth Street, said Drew and the homeowners have cause for concern.

“The problem (gang violence) exists. It’s probably a bigger problem than when they tore Poss Homes down,” Tillary said. “Violence has increased. Gang involvement has increased.”

The concern comes amid a recent rash of violence that left 16 people shot — and four of them dead.

With the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies showing a sharp rise in robberies and burglaries from 2005 to 2009 in the area that includes the Tubman site, Phillips and other concerned homeowners hope to convince federal officials to deny permission to close Tubman.

Betsy McCright, executive director of the Chattanooga Housing Authority, said that concerned residents and homeowners are “entitled to their opinion. I don’t happen to agree with it and it’s unfortunate that they feel that way.”


Drew and her 3-year-old son are among 315 families the Chattanooga Housing Authority proposes to relocate in hopes of selling or razing the Tubman property. Housing officials say it would cost $33 million to bring the site up to good repair.

With 440 units, Tubman is CHA’s second-largest public housing site. If housing officials are successful in gaining federal approval for their plan, Tubman will become the fifth public housing site closed or demolished within the past decade. The site once had 500 units until 60 were demolished in 2005.

Officials say residents will have the option to take a voucher to rent a private home or to relocate in East Lake Courts, College Hill Courts or Emma Wheeler Homes public housing sites.

But there are fears that either option could lead to more crime, even bloodshed.

The potential problem with Tubman residents relocating from East Chattanooga to East Lake Courts or Emma Wheeler Homes is that the Crips gang claims Tubman as part of its territory area while the Bloods are in East Lake Court and Emma Wheeler Homes in Alton Park on the city’s south side, said Drew.

“You’re moving from the Eastside to the Southside,” she said. “It’s just Crips out here. Southside is Bloods, and you’re moving in their territory.”

Homeowners also worry that Tubman residents who choose to relocate with a voucher may come to Eastdale, East Chattanooga and North Brainerd for rental housing, spreading more crime and poverty.

“I’m not saying that everybody living in Harriet Tubman is bad,” said Cynthia Cash, president of the North Brainerd Neighborhood Association. “But that area is where they find many gang members when they want to arrest them.”

And, she said, “the more they tear down housing where there is a criminal element, the more it spreads to other neighborhoods.”

CHA’s McCright took issue with that notion.

“Poverty does not equate with crime,” she said. “Unfortunately, many people broad brush our housing choice voucher program to be just ripe with criminals, and it’s simply not the case.

“We have many people who happen to be poor who are hard-working people, and they’re raising their kids in the best way they can every single day.”

Poverty-crime link

But Phyllis G. Betts, director of the Center for Community Building and Neighborhood Action at the University of Memphis, said Cash’s concerns are supported by research.

“The general relationship between clusters of poverty and crime is well established,” said Betts, whose center specializes in research and community-based problem solving on housing neighborhoods, and community development. “So if you have poverty moving to neighborhoods and concentrating in new neighborhoods, you’ll probably see an increase in crime.”

But relocating public housing residents is usually not the only factor that contributes to the problem. Low-income people tend to move to neighborhoods that are declining in property values to begin with because most cities keep building new subdivisions and people who can afford it keep moving farther out, said Betts.

“Because the demolition of a public housing site is so visible, people associate all the change in a neighborhood with that event, but that’s one event,” she said.

“If you look at other indicators, there is probably evidence that property values in their neighborhood were stable or declining compared to newer neighborhoods. They weren’t getting younger families with more education and income.”

Crime numbers

CHA’s four largest housing sites are located in the five sub-areas of Hamilton County that typically account for the most crime, according to figures from the 2010 public safety report issued by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.

Harriet Tubman is in the area that the Ochs report refers to as Amnicola/East Chattanooga; East Lake Courts is in Ridgedale/Oak Grove/ Clifton Hills; College Hill Courts is in Downtown Chattanooga; and Emma Wheeler Homes is in South Chattanooga. Bushtown/Highland Park, which sits adjacent to the East Chattanooga area, is the only neighborhood that the Ochs Center identifies as a high-crime area that doesn’t include a public housing site.

Together, the five areas comprise what is the bulk of the city’s urban core.

Crime declined slightly in Chattanooga from 2003 to 2008, according to the Ochs report.

But during that period, the five sub-areas that accounted for just over 14 percent of the county population were home to 40 percent of its robberies, 41 percent of aggravated assaults, 31 percent of burglaries and vandalism and 40 percent of drug offenses, according to the Ochs report.

And despite the overall moderation in crime, some of these sub-areas recorded substantial increases from 2005 to 2009. The number of robberies and burglaries more than doubled in the Amnicola-East Chattanooga area that includes Tubman, and assaults and vandalism also rose.

That’s what worries Cash and other homeowners from the Eastdale and North Brainerd area through the Wilcox Tunnel, just a short distance from Tubman.

Cash said they plan to express their opposition to CHA’s plans for Tubman directly to HUD. Cash said homeowners will ask HUD to reject the proposed closure.

Otherwise, Cash agrees with Drew, the Tubman resident, on what would result.

“It’s going to be 24-hour gun wars,” Cash said.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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sangaree said...

I don't understand some groups that constantly complain about racial discrimination and racial intolerance then proceed to practice class discrimination themselves.

It been on the books for decades the federal government is getting out of the public housing business. Instead of complaining and creating committees to keep people out, why not create a committee to welcome the people and teach them how to be good respectable neighbors?

Hasn't North Brainerd had crime problems for quite a number of years now? Now they'll try to blame it on tenants from public housing relocating into their neighborhoods?

March 31, 2011 at 1:48 p.m.
sherry said...

I agree with both comments,but if you haven't lived in the projects you don't know there problems.My mother was moved from McCallie Homes in 2003. Its was scary for us and the people in the new area.For a while we couldn't sit outside.New faces are targets for gangs.No matter what the police do,our youth run to gangs. Broken families,low income,no education,they feel as if thats there way out. We have to save our kids. Stop doing away with us.Listen to us,we may not have money but we bleed blood.You put us out and dont look back. Just another poor family,not all of us are gang members.Times are hard right now,gas prices,no jobs,these sites are the only thing keeping us from being homeless.Each of these sites are like a town full of family.We live so close we know each other.When you tear them down you take our family away.Take time and think how you would feel,if someone took all you have away.Your friends,family,the only place you call home for years all gone.Not because what you have done,just because they can.You find yourself in a town full of strangers,lost, poor,and confused.How would you feel? To be throwed in the deep end,and you can't swim. Save these sites and you will save LIFES!!! Praying hard for a change.....

March 31, 2011 at 9:20 p.m.
sherry said...

****Thanks Indian,Thats all we can do is pray. I pray they rebuild.With chuches,centers,and outreach programes.A place were the poor can grow.Get better education,jobs,and learn how to live in society.A place were our kids dont have to run to gangs,and selling drugs.But run to the Lord,and the family he gives us.If Chattanooga work together and stop running we could save our kids.From gangs and drugs.

April 1, 2011 at 9:10 a.m.
chioK_V said...

I don't understand why some people immediately thing gang, drugs and public housing are synonymous. Would it be all that surprising to learn that most gang members don't even live in public housing? That drugs and drug abuse take place more often in affluent upper-classed neighborhoods than in poor minority ones? It's another form of bigotry to allow ourselves into being seduced in believing only the poor in public housing belong to gangs, commit crimes and abuse drugs.

April 1, 2011 at 6:35 p.m.
blondie1987 said...

What do you mean you don't understand why people think they are synonymous?? Did you read the stats on crime in the areas... I live fairly close to Alton Park so it does make me a little nervous to think they may move those people anywhere near here. I won't even drive near those areas after dark or during the day actually if avoidable. I mean, ride by there and look at the people and see if you would want to be living in an area with that type of crowd lurking around. Gang members are not too discreet about showing exactly what they stand for. But I don't understand why people get offended when people associate poverty with crime, because the stats are there to prove it... I feel sorry for the people trying to better their circumstance, but when you look at the facts, most are not trying and the cycle of poverty continues, along with the crime. I give props to the PD for doing these saturation things busting all these people but until they crack down, the problem will not dissipate any time soon.

April 5, 2011 at 8:23 p.m.
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