published Friday, May 31st, 2013

Short Takes: Taxpayers foot bill for fire calls, and Georgia wants state parks to turn profit

From a luxurious past to low-income present

Patten Towers, when it opened its doors as Hotel Patten in 1906, was one of Chattanooga's first "skyscrapers," and it was hailed as "fireproof."

The $1 million, 11-story, luxury hotel -- complete with ballroom -- was the largest of its kind here, and it was intended as a $1.50-a-night home away from home for travelers debarking trains at the newly built Choo Choo Terminal.

In recent decades, however, it has been a nonluxury government-subsidized housing facility for the low-income, elderly and disabled. It was something that has always seemed an odd use for a unique building on a piece of prime real estate in the heart of downtown Chattanooga.

It also seems an odd use of something so integral to the city's storied past. But put the use question aside for a moment and consider the fire issue.

The claim of fireproof must be at least partly true, because in the past decade, firefighters have been called to the Patten Towers low-income housing facility about once a day every day. And fire crews have fought several fires -- yet the building still stands.

Such was the call Tuesday night at 10 p.m. This time the basement was engulfed in flames believed to have sparked from underground electrical conduits. The basement filled with smoke and 1,500-degree flames.

All 241 residents had to be evacuated. They won't be able to move back for days -- at the very least. From the outside, Patten Towers shows no sign of fire. It looks just as it has for the past 35 years.

But through those years -- especially the past five years -- fire trucks have regularly circled the block around the tower. Most of the fire calls have been false alarms, triggered, according to news stories, by everything from rodents and bugs to ill, disoriented or angry tenants.

Almost every time, because of the building's age, height and inhabitants, the Chattanooga Fire Department rolls out all the big guns -- six engine companies. Each of those full-on responses costs taxpayers an extra $530. The total tab was about $204,300 in 2012. It was more than $622,200 for 1,174 calls since 2010.

The building's owner, PK Management, is a nationwide management company specializing in Section 8 affordable housing properties and "Low-income Housing Tax Credit" properties, according to PK Management's website. The company has four offices in Cleveland, Ohio; Sherman Oaks, Calif.; Greenville, S.C. and Raleigh, N.C.

The website states the company employs "over 525 employees nationwide and we are growing fast!!"

Isn't it time Chattanooga took back one of its oldest buildings and stopped subsidizing a management company's profit?

Isn't it time the poor elderly and disabled residents were moved to a more appropriate setting without 11 floors and constant fire alarms?

Park cuts and unrealistic demands

If Chattanooga is hemorrhaging money on unchecked fire calls to a privately owned building, then Georgia, in taking publicly owned parks and insisting they turn a profit for the state, is swinging the pendulum of public money handling a bit too far in the other direction.

The Georgia Assembly wants the state's parks to pay their way -- or better.

And in the case of Cloudland Canyon, the closest big Georgia park in the Chattanooga region, the profit it already turns goes to defray costs at other parks that don't.

The trouble is this: Government is not free. It is a service taxpayers pay for. Sure we'd like government to run like a well-oiled watch and not cost too much. But these parks are ours already. And now lawmakers are cutting things that taxpayers actually might enjoy in the parks we own and pay for. And in Georgia's case, the savings is actually being outsourced.

While Georgia cuts jobs, the state contracted with an out-of-state private company to manage the park lodges and golf courses.

Huh?

Tell us again how this helps Georgians?

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AndrewLohr said...

Tell us how outsourcing sewer bills to Hemet, CA helps Chattanoogans?

Tell us why Ann from Credit Card Services isn't in jail for making "Do not call" calls?

Make Patten Towers pay its bills? Yeah. Subsidize golf courses, Tivoli, and Memorial Auditorium? Why should taxpayers do that? Jesus is libertarian: generous with Himself, not with other people's money. Jesus or Hell.

May 31, 2013 at 4:49 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Yikes. . . And the Republicans want “Voucher’ programs to replace our public school system. I can see it now. . . PK Management Elementary Schools, Inc.

May 31, 2013 at 1:19 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

The Mayor has failed us. Sending a !@#$%^ email is far below what's expected and needed at this point. We need a face.

Someone needs to face these people and tell them directly and unequivocally that this will not happen to them again. Anything less is unacceptable.

These poor people who live in Patten Towers deserve far better. No one in our city should be treated this way. No one.

Mayor Berke, you have failed. This was the city's fist real hour of need for leadership. It has not been the first crisis, but it has been the first crisis where human leadership could have made a difference. Political will can't stop tornadoes, floods or fires.

But leadership can stop the mistreatment of the poor.

Profiteering, willful negligence and ignorance: no one deserves this. That's what the people who live in Patten Towers are getting. Shame on the city!

May 31, 2013 at 4:44 p.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

328, What's the rest of the story behind your post? I'm only recently returned to sweet home Chattanooga and don't know the history here.

May 31, 2013 at 8:03 p.m.
fairmon said...

School vouchers may yield better results than what most schools are now doing. Every teacher and principle should be required to spend time hiring and employing those they helped prepare for the world. Perhaps linking teacher compensation to the results once employed may help. No child left behind was not intended to slow down all so every kid could keep up.

Is the towers and section 8 housing not a federal program? I don't think the mayor has any control over the program. This may be another example of why a huge central government too big to manage won't work.

June 1, 2013 at 12:31 a.m.
fairmon said...

328Kwebsite said... The Mayor has failed us. Sending a !@#$%^ email is far below what's expected and needed at this point. We need a face.

What would you have the mayor do about a federal program over which he has no control? There is a face, a name, that handles local section 8 housing for the federal government.

June 1, 2013 at 12:34 a.m.
Soos54 said...

328Kwebsite said...The Mayor has failed us. Sending a !@#$%^ email is far below what's expected and needed at this point. We need a face.

not sure what you're talking about. I have volunteered at the Brainerd Rec center to help the patten towers people and seen him up there talking with residents and us volunteers and thanking us for helping. How many times have you been up here to help?

June 1, 2013 at 1:37 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Fairmon said: “Is the towers and section 8 housing not a federal program? . . .This may be another example of why a huge central government too big to manage won't work.”

I don't think you understand that PK Management is a for-profit business, Fairmon. . . The Section 8 Housing Program is essentially a privatized alternative to public housing. . . The kind of problems that the Patten Towers residents are encountering is just another example of what happens when you introduce the profit motive into the social-services sector.

Fairmon says: “Every teacher and principle should be required to spend time hiring and employing those they helped prepare for the world. Perhaps linking teacher compensation to the results once employed may help.”

I must say you sure talk funny for a Libertarian. . . How long are you proposing that students be dependent upon their teachers in regard to their successes and/or failures? . . . And exactly where did you put your philosophy that people should be self-reliant. . . I'm curious. . . Indeed, what about the responsibility of the individual – in this case, the student?

June 1, 2013 at 7:59 p.m.
fairmon said...

mountainlaurel said....

I must say you sure talk funny for a Libertarian. . . How long are you proposing that students be dependent upon their teachers in regard to their successes and/or failures? .

This is not for the students but so teachers will see how miserably they are failing to prepare students for the real world and being responsible and self sufficient.

June 2, 2013 at 9:54 a.m.
fairmon said...

ML said....

I don't think you understand that PK Management is a for-profit business, Fairmon. . . The Section 8 Housing Program is essentially a privatized alternative to public housing. . . The kind of problems that the Patten Towers residents are encountering is just another example of what happens when you introduce the profit motive into the social-services sector.

I understand the section 8 program and I understand it is supported by federal tax dollars. It is supposed to be under the over sight of employees of the federal government. It is logical to contract it versus the government running it. The government has the manpower and authority to avoid failures like this but still screw it up. It is another "hands off" bottomless money pit program with good intentions but so poorly managed it misses the target consistently. Where is Fleishmann in this process where the mayor is being criticized for a federal failure?

June 2, 2013 at 10:01 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Fairmon says: “This is not for the students but so teachers will see how miserably they are failing to prepare students for the real world and being responsible and self sufficient.”

Again, it seems to me you’re ignoring some basics when it comes to Libertarian philosophy in that individuals play a key role in their own successes and failures. . . Are you sure, you're a Libertarian, Fairmon? . . . You just don't sound like one to me.

June 2, 2013 at 1:37 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Fairmon says re Patten Towers: “It is logical to contract it versus the government running it.”

How so, Fairmon? It may be preferable from your perspective, but it’s not necessarily logical for a government to give the contract to a for-profit business to operate.

Fairmon says: “Where is Fleishmann in this process where the mayor is being criticized for a federal failure?”

Yes, since the Tennessee Housing Development Agency appears to be the government agency that receives the HUD monies and is the government agency that actually selected and issued the contract with the owners of Patten Towers, it does seem unfair the poor mayor is being criticized for issues and problems involving the State of Tennessee’s elected officials.

June 2, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.
fairmon said...

ML said...

Yes, since the Tennessee Housing Development Agency appears to be the government agency that receives the HUD monies and is the government agency that actually selected and issued the contract with the owners of Patten Towers, it does seem unfair the poor mayor is being criticized for issues and problems involving the State of Tennessee’s elected officials.

The local HUD administrator is a federal employee. Regardless of who they allow to run it the program is a federal program and the poor results are a federal problem. What should they do with or about the failure? I know, spend more money.

June 3, 2013 at 12:28 a.m.
fairmon said...

ML said...

Again, it seems to me you’re ignoring some basics when it comes to Libertarian philosophy in that individuals play a key role in their own successes and failures. . . Are you sure, you're a Libertarian, Fairmon? . . . You just don't sound like one to me.

You have not seen where Libertarians don't support quality education. The point is most teachers do not teach kids to be responsible self sufficient adults. I am sure I am not as blindly loyal to the libertarian philosophy as you are to the democrats.

June 3, 2013 at 12:32 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Fairmon says: “The local HUD administrator is a federal employee.”

And? . . . Please, continue, Fairmon. . . . Is this the administrator responsible for monitoring the HUD contract that is administered by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency? If so, what corrective action are you recommending in this particular case?

Fairmon says: Regardless of who they allow to run it the program is a federal program and the poor results are a federal problem.”

Sounds like you think the federal government is the only level of government that has responsibilities when it comes to administering the taxpayers’ money. Well, I believe all levels of government have responsibilities when it comes to administering the taxpayers’ money – cities, counties, states, and Federal. The same applies to any agency, organization, or for-profit business that has been awarded a government contract to perform the peoples’ business.

Fairmon says: “You have not seen where Libertarians don't support quality education. The point is most teachers do not teach kids to be responsible self sufficient adults.”

This is an interesting comment coming from someone who seems to think that the federal government is the only level of government that has responsibilities when it comes to administering the taxpayers’ money. Shall I blame your teachers for not teaching you that everyone has responsibilities? Or, perhaps, I should blame the schools that you attended because they did offer you a class that taught you that every level of government should be held accountable when it comes to spending the taxpayers’ money – along with any agency or for-profit business that has been awarded a contract to perform the peoples’ business.

June 3, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.
fairmon said...

ML...HUD which should never have been to start with was initiated by the federal government and is run by the federal government. The fact they chose to delegate doesn't allow them to abdicate. Obviously there are failures and I would expect to see the fur flying from those that did not fulfill their obligation. It is possible, if typical, that those obligations were not very well documented/communicated. I am betting no consequences for anyone. It is like the couple of billion spent by the IRS on conventions including $1500+ rooms and other perks for some attending one in California. It is not an Obama thing, he doesn't have a clue, it has been going on for years with the democrats being only slightly worse at allowing "big spending". If the government would collect the taxes due and congress stop the wasteful spending, the over staffing and over paying there would essentially be no budget problem. I won't try to hold my breath until that happens.

June 3, 2013 at 3:38 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

AndrewLohr said... "Jesus or hell."

I'll take hell over Jesus, Jehovah, and Lohr -- The Three Stooges of religious bigotry, superstition, and genocide.

June 3, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.
fairmon said...

Mountainlaurel said.... Please, continue, Fairmon. . . . Is this the administrator responsible for monitoring the HUD contract

See the following at the end of todays TFP article showing the mayor responding although he has no authority regarding HUD.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the regulating agency for Patten Towers. HUD officials said late today that they are working to answer reporters’ questions. HUD has not attended any news conferences or made any public statement about the disaster.

What is so hard to answer? Are they trying to determine how to blame someone else? It is my understanding the regulating agency is supposed to inspect or cause to be inspected the participating facilities. And, to assure appropriate and timely repairs are done. The position is not one where a "hands off" management style works.

It would be managed as well if handled locally.

June 3, 2013 at 6:42 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Fairmon says: The fact they chose to delegate doesn't allow them to abdicate.”

Abdicate? I can recall occasions where you’ve claimed it’s “logical” for the U.S. government to contract with for-profit businesses and to give tax dollars to states to administer programs, but now you imply they’re abdicating their duties by doing so. What’s going on, Fairmon?

Fairmon says: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the regulating agency . . . HUD officials said late today that they are working to answer reporters’ questions. . . What is so hard to answer? Are they trying to determine how to blame someone else?”

It makes sense that HUD would be the “regulating” agency since it is a HUD contract, but who is actually administering the contract? I’m only asking because I went to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency’s website and noted that Patten Towers is listed along with several other Hamilton County Section 8 projects being administered by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. The site also provides the following overview:

"In August 2000, Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) was awarded a Performance Based ACC Contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for oversight of properties with Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment Contracts. The Section 8 Contract Administration Division has responsibility for the majority of HUD's Performance Based Section 8 properties in Tennessee and is also a traditional contract administrator for a small portfolio of Section 8 properties for which THDA is the mortgage holder."

http://www.thda.org/index.aspx?NID=136

Fairmon says: “Obviously there are failures...It is possible, if typical, that those obligations were not very well documented/communicated.”

At this point, I’m not quite sure what is really happening - only what I’ve read. . .Some are saying Patten Towers has been neglected for years while others are claiming this isn’t really the case and suggest that much of the hullabaloo has been manufactured as a way to boot the residents because the location is now considered prime property. . . As to your communication doubts, PK Management owns a lot of properties throughout the country so they must be experienced. I also note that Tennessee’s Housing Development Agency does put forth some effort in regard to expectations and contract compliance:

”The Division offers Compliance Training for owners, managers, and dedicated compliance staff of Project-Based Section 8 properties assigned to THDA for contracted monitoring. This training is offered several times per year in various locations in the state.”

http://www.thda.org/index.aspx?nid=292

June 3, 2013 at 10:15 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Fairmon,

I went to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency website again to double check that Patten Towers was on their Assigned Property list and it was. Personally, I don’t understand why the Tennessee Housing Development Agency would have it on their Assigned Property List, if wasn’t actually the case. If you’re interested, this is the link.

http://resources.thda.org/OAandHBEweblist/S8CAcontractAssignment.aspx

June 3, 2013 at 10:47 p.m.
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