2010
09.07

In existence since the Nixon Administration, LaFayette Housing Authority is an entity of the city government that owns, operates, and rents apartments to low-income, handicapped, and elderly residents. Housing Authority apartments are not provided free, however rent is adjusted based on occupant income with the remainder subsidized by funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rental income and federal funding keep the Authority running without a dime of city money, giving the agency autonomy and independence outside of the City Council’s control.

With 300 apartments capable of housing nearly a thousand people, LaFayette Housing Authority provides residences to a significant portion of the city’s residents. But soon 30 of those apartments will bite the dust as part of a project to upgrade all of the authority’s properties and revitalize a long-forgotten neighborhood.

The first Housing Authority apartments at Foster Circle (off Foster Blvd. behind the current post office) were built in the early 1970’s by a private operator. After a few years those two-story brown-brick buildings were turned over to the Authority and joined by the familiar single-story red brick duplexes that make up most of the city’s low-income housing.

Today Foster Circle isn’t a circle anymore (the Hwy. 27 bypass closed off one end) and those original two-story buildings are forty years old, inaccessible to handicapped residents, and in need of major renovations. Poorly-built foundations have shifted or settled, resulting in structural damage that would be difficult to repair.

Instead of costly upgrades, the Housing Authority has decided to tear down the four remaining two-story buildings and replace them with single-level duplexes matching the rest of its properties. But under federal law, replacement buildings must house the same number of same-size families as the old structures. That’s impossible to do in the same amount of space, so several of the replacement duplexes will be built on another piece of property located in the center of town.

That property is at the corner of Culberson Ave. and South Steele, former site of black-segregated Hill High School. After integration Hill High became LaFayette Junior High, which burned to the ground in 1975 under racially-motivated “suspicious circumstances.” The 4-acre lot was purchased by a Chattanooga junkyard operator and has sat vacant and abandoned ever since the fire.

South Steele Street, a tenth of a mile long, cuts between North Chattanooga Street and Culberson Avenue. Five tidy Housing Authority duplexes and a small playground occupy the east side, while the west side offers little-used Steele Street Church of God, several dilapidated rental houses, and the empty Hill High School lot. In recent years the old school property has become overgrown and covered in trash, a corner where drug dealers have easy access to their customers and rarely see the police.

That situation will hopefully change once the Housing Authority finalizes its purchase of the property, cleans it up, and begins building new residences on the site.

In an ideal world, the Authority could build new duplexes on the South Steele St. property, move residents from Foster Circle into the new apartments, and then tear down and replace existing structures one by one. But again federal law comes into play, making the project more complicated than it would be otherwise. Under HUD’s arcane rules, new buildings cannot be built until the old ones are torn down, and all new buildings must be constructed at the same time.

That means the Housing Authority can’t build a single new apartment on either property until the apartments at Foster Circle come down, and the apartments can’t come down until everyone living in them is moved out. HUD doesn’t allow the authority to displace public-housing residents or even pay for them to stay in private rental houses or a hotel, so the redevelopment plan has been on hold for over a year as the Authority waits for thirty low-income families from around town to move out of public housing so their spots can be taken by the remaining residents of Foster Circle.

Even in good times the Housing Authority maintains a long waiting list of families in need, so in today’s bad economy with widespread job losses their services are more in demand than ever – and through this project the Authority has temporarily lost more than 10% of the apartments normally available to the city’s most impoverished residents. Those factors should make completion a top-priority. (Last night’s fire at privately-owned Carriage Hills apartments destroyed 8 residences and left 7 families (about 30 people) homeless, making the project even more urgent.)

The last families living in the four condemned buildings moved out in July, but surprisingly the project has yet to begin. The delay might be an issue with the contractor (hopefully NOT Morton Construction), a wait for 2010 Census results, or some additional layer of red tape from HUD.

Either way, whenever this project is done its completion will mean better quality (and better looking) public housing, the cleanup of a criminal-controlled neighborhood, and new places to live for forty local families struggling to survive their current circumstances. For once, a government action that will benefit the city – assuming the authority can cut through red tape and get everything done in a reasonable amount of time.

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9 comments so far

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  1. i love foster circle, i want to know everything about it. I am pregnant about to have a boy. and i need a place for me, my boyfriend, and my baby boy. i have no income im 16 years old please help!

  2. Megan: The Housing Authority has other apartments available even while part of Foster Circle is closed. You can call them at 706 638 2733 during the week. You may have to get on a waiting list until they have an opening, and the list might be long right now. You also have to live within LaFayette, I think – but there are public housing agencies in other cities too.

    As I recall the Authority has an age requirement, which you might not meet, and doesn’t let co-hab couples live together. You should strongly consider getting married and having your boyfriend/husband apply for the apartment. They might not be able to tell you all of that, not sure. Doesn’t hurt to call and ask around.

    Do you have a place to live now? With family or friends..?

    Good luck, let me know if you get anywhere with them.

    — The LaFayette Underground

  3. my cousin was 17 when she got an apartment from fost circle and she had a kid and her boyfriend i want this bad can you help!

  4. We don’t have any connections or strings to pull.. You’ll have to go through the process. Call the Housing Authority or go see them tomorrow (should be open) and explain your situation.

    Do you have a place to live now?

    — The LaFayette Underground

  5. yea, but theres no room for my baby! theres 7 people in there house with 3 bedrooms okay ill call!

  6. I hate they are doing this our house is directly in front of the old hill school place. the value of our home will greatly depreaciate. I sure hope that the city REALLY is gonna make this area cleaner and not just WELCOME drugies into the area making more money dealing drugs and living in free/cheap place while we are havin to really work to keep our place nice and takin care of!

  7. I think the value of your home will go up with clean well-maintained city apartments in the lot across from your house instead of an overgrown garbage-covered lot where drug dealers do business. I might be wrong, but honestly there’s nothing they could possibly put there any worse than what’s there now, except maybe a combination chicken-processing-plant and crackwhore lodge.

    — LU

  8. LOL TOO FUNNY. CHICKEN PROCESSING PLANT? CRACKWHORE LODGE? LETS NOT FORGET LINNWOOD IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. SO, MAYBE NOT CRACK BUT METH!!!! AND IF YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT THE VALUE OF YOUR HOUSE, THEN YOU MUST NOT HAVE DONE YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE BUYING THE HOUSE. DUH…WHICH WAS BUILT BY AN AFRICAN AMERICAN IN THE FIRST PLACE. ALL I CAN SAY IS WELCOME TO THE HOOD. HENDERSON, CULBERSON, STEELE, ANN—THE HOOD. SO WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU? THE OLD HILL HIGH PROPERTY SHOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER KEPT BY THE CITY. IF THAT WAS THE SIGHT OF AN OLD WHITE SCHOOL, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN.-THUS THE MARSH HOUSE AND THAT OLD SCHOOL BUILDING (OR WHATEVER IT IS)–BUT THEN AGAIN..THIS IS LAFAYETTE!! DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH

  9. IS THE SAME PEOPLE RUNNING IT IF SO THEY PICK WHO THEY WANT THERE.WHAT I THINK IS WRONG IS WHEN YOU GET IN TROUBLE YOU GET A FELON.YOU DO YOUR TIME YOU GET YOUR LIFE STRAIGHT.DONT GET INTO ANYMORE TROUBLE LIVING FOR THE LORD AND REALLY SICK BUT SOMETHING YOU DID 14 YRS AGO KEEPS YOU FROM GETTING A PLACE AND YOU HAVE TO LIVE IN ABUSE BECAUSE YOU CANT AFFORD TO MOVE.AND THEY WONT GIVE YOU AN APARTMENT.