published Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Chattanooga City Council set to vote on Harriet Tubman complex purchase

The Chattanooga Housing Authority's Harriet Tubman complex in East Chattanooga sits vacant.
The Chattanooga Housing Authority's Harriet Tubman complex in East Chattanooga sits vacant.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

Chattanooga City Council members are expected to vote tonight on one of Mayor Andy Berke’s key initiatives in his proposed 2014 budget: the purchase of an abandoned housing development for $1 million.

Council members will consider whether to approve a letter of intent from the city to the Chattanooga Housing Authority to buy the Harriet Tubman complex.

Berke wants to demolish the 35-acre site, then open it up to one of nearly 40 employers currently seeking to open a manufacturing plant on one of the handful of available properties in the city.

The Tubman proposal is included in the mayor’s $212 million budget, which the council has not yet approved.

Councilman Larry Grohn questioned the rush to act, since the housing authority has been sitting on five offers for Tubman from developers since 2012.

“A hundred days have gone by, now we have a budget and everything is an emergency?” Grohn asked.

Lacie Stone, Berke’s spokeswoman, said the purchase process takes time. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will decide whether the city can purchase the property. Money to purchase the land would come from this year’s capital budget, Stone said.

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem, who added the resolution to this week’s agenda on Friday, said he didn’t see the need to wait for the city to get the process started. The council could, he said, later decide not to approve the total $3 million funds.

The housing authority was given permission in 2011 to sell the deteriorating housing complex in East Chattanooga. A year later, Tubman residents, fewer than 300 in number, were relocated to other CHA properties or offered a housing voucher.

Since then, the buildings have been boarded up and security trolls the area trying to keep squatters and homeless people from finding shelter inside.

Real estate officials say the Chattanooga Housing Authority entertained multiple bids ranging from $800,000 to $4 million, for the property. In 2013, it renewed its contract with Kirkland Co. to continue marketing the site as an apartment complex.

Residents of nearby neighborhoods have mixed feelings about whether the city should include low-income housing in future plans for the site.

Cynthia Cash, president of the North Brainerd Neighborhood Association Council, questioned if the potential jobs created at the site will be permanent for those in the community, and questioned why a few acres could not be set aside for housing.

“We would prefer that they work with the developers,” Cash said. “And have affordable housing on some of those acres.”

John Lewis, president of the Avondale Association where Tubman is located, said residents would welcome new jobs but not another low-income development in the area.

Councilman Moses Freeman, who represents the area, said he plans to vote for the resolution regardless of criticism.

“If the neighborhoods decide they were opposed, my view would say the same,” he said. “We don’t need low-income housing at that site.”

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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