City Council Hits CHA On Lack Of Survey On Residents Leaving Westside; Coonrod Vows To Get Survey Moving

  • Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Several City Council members on Tuesday lambasted the Chattanooga Housing Authority for not having an up-to-date survey on which residents would like to return to the Westside after College Hill Courts is replaced with a mix of brand new housing.

Councilwoman Carol Berz said it appeared to her that the relocation project "looks like gentrification."

Councilwoman Jenny Hill said, "I don't see people being moved out for short term. I see people being moved out." She said Urban Renewal in the 1950s and 1960s wiped out black communities. She said, "It did exactly what it was suppose to do. We don't want that for our city again."

They and others said it was important to keep the historic African American community on the Westside.

However, Councilwoman Demetus Coonrod, who grew up on the Westside, vowed to get a survey going. She asked CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright, "Do you have a good pair of walking shoes?" She said she would tour College Hill Courts with Ms. McCright one day soon to begin carrying out a new survey.

Councilwoman Coonrod said many College Hill Courts residents have told her they do not want to return there. She said with the current "concentrated poverty," that "When they go to bed every night they hear gunshots. Every porch has somebody selling drugs. Nobody wants to see what is going on in the stairwells."

The City Council is being asked to approve a $135 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that couples the Westside Evolves project with The Bend at the former Alstom site.

The Bend developer Jimmy White said he has $1.3 billion in development already in the pipeline and is anxious to get going. But he said the TIF has to first be approved.

He said The Bend will include a new 11-story building, another that is over 20 stories, a Canal Entertainment District with an amphitheater, nine acres of new park land and 300 boat slips.

He said a developer is ready to start in the second quarter of next year on 400 new residential units at The Bend, and eventually to build 2,000 units. He said there will be at least three hotels and possibly a fourth.

Mr. White said, "This is the last developable piece of the Riverfront and we have got to do it right."

Jermaine Freeman, the mayor's chief of staff, urged the council to approve the TIF, saying the council would retain the right to withhold funds for CHA if it chose.

He noted that proceeds from the TIF would help make possible the Westside Evolves program as well as funding a new fire hall and a new school at the former Gateway building earlier acquired by the county for $10 million.

The TIF would pay for up to 50 percent of the infrastructure at The Bend site, including five miles of new roads.

Westside Evolves includes eventually tearing down College Hill Courts and the Gateway Towers. The former city Youth and Family Development building would first be taken down and replaced with new housing.

Ms. McCright said current College Hill Court residents who have to temporarily move "would be at the tippy top" of the CHA voucher list.

Councilwoman Marvene Noel said the College Hill Courts project "is Jim Crow sprinkled from beginning to end. This is garbage."

Chairwoman Raquetta Dotley said, "I was so appalled by the treachery and disrespect" of CHA.

Councilwoman Berz said it seemed that The Bend project "is being held hostage" by Westside Evolves. Mr. Freeman disagreed, saying the entire TIF project could be approved and The Bend work start while issues continue to be worked through at Westside Evolves.

Officials also said that Westside Evolves funding also depends on HUD granting a $50 million Choice grant and the state awarding $100 million in housing tax credits.

Ms. McCright said there are no plans to include Short Term Vacation Rentals in Westside Evolves.

Concerning a clause that current College Hill Court residents must be "in good standing" to return to the site, she said that deals with such matters as someone being involved in meth.

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