I’ve got some questions about the newly-created East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority and I can’t get anyone to answer them.
I’m not alone. Others are crying out for how this thing works and what it’s going to be used for, including Councilman Jacky Cagle. He can’t get any real answers either. He tried in the last council meeting and Mayor Brent Lambert essentially shouted him down. Late last week I emailed the mayor at his city account on the city’s Website and his own personal account asking for him to flesh out this new concept. So far, no response.
But, like other schemes in this city, I’m afraid the citizens – and for that matter the City Council – are being told one thing when actually plans are being made for something entirely different.
In recent months, the city has established a Housing Board comprised of Travis Olinger, Eddie Phillips, Kenneth Rogers, Jim Winters and Mike Hendricks. This is completely separate from the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
The city has also established a “residential rental inspection program,” after having state law changed allowing East Ridge to do it. Ostensibly, the rental inspection program will allow the city to gear up with inspectors and systematically inspect rental houses and apartments in the city. I’m told by city officials that roughly half of the city’s 10,000 dwellings are not owner occupied.
The Housing Board, I’m told, will hear appeals brought by landlords who have been sanctioned under the rental inspection program.
Then, Mayor Lambert rolls out this Housing and Redevelopment Authority, where he names all five members. The creation of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority was approved by resolution, not ordinance, which requires only one vote. That vote on April 28 was adopted 4-0, with Councilman Cagle abstaining. Cagle’s reason for abstaining … he didn’t know enough about how this board would run and to what end.
During the last council meeting Mayor Lambert said that he had commitments from four of the five to be named to this housing authority board. He did not tell the council or citizens who had committed and said that he would wait until the last meeting in May to announce all five. Then he added that he wouldn’t be at the meeting, so I’m guessing someone on the council will announce the members of this panel on his behalf. (I’m told that the mayor is on vacation).
So what we have is a meeting where the mayor won’t be there to answer any further questions about the housing authority or the appointees.
Let me provide a little background. Creating an East Ridge Housing Authority was floated back in 2008-09. Then-Mayor Mike Steele said he wanted to create one to provide “worker housing” for the city. The man behind this idea was the City Attorney, John Anderson. At that time Steele said we needed the housing authority because it was the only way the city could qualify for Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
During this time, I asked Councilman Larry Sewell what his understanding was of the proposed housing authority and the concept of TIFs. He said that the City Attorney knew all about it and that it was a good idea.
The proposal lost momentum and never really got beyond the discussion stage. I can only imagine that after Lambert was elected mayor (2010) he and Anderson shifted their attention to another money maker for the city – The Border Region Act.
Fast forward to 2016. Mayor Lambert tells me that he wants to establish a Housing and Redevelopment Authority. He’s got Anderson’s protege, Mark Litchford, as City Attorney now. Former City Attorney Hal North, who took a more cautious approach to advising the mayor and council, was now out of the way, after having resigned.
Lambert wants to adopt state statutes as essentially the rules of engagement for the housing authority. I’m really not sure those rules apply to East Ridge as it references metropolitan populations with 300,000 people. The state statutes, it appears, was conceived for Nashville and Davidson County. I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know. And, nobody really wants to explain anything.
In this information vacuum citizens can only guess at what’s going on. Virtually all my neighbors and people on social media are talking about the housing authority and how it might address problems with rental property on their street that has high grass or there’s trash and junk cars sitting in the yard.
That ain’t what this East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority is about, folks. It’s about – hey, I’m guessing here because nobody’s stepping up to tell me otherwise – defining a commercial area that is blighted and using the housing authority to somehow get tax breaks (TIF) to improve it.
It’s not about your neighbors living in rundown rental property and getting the landlord to improve it and improving the quality of life of the average citizen.
It’s about more development. And, after all, isn’t that what everyone in this city wants right now? Please, Mayor Lambert, explain all this to your constituents, will you?