Chattanooga Provides Details of Hotel Conversion

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Airport Inn could be renovated into supportive housing for homeless, affected neighboring residents

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) — Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly shared more details Wednesday night about the city’s purchase of the dilapidated Airport Inn.

It is about to be converted into permanent apartments with support services for some members of the city’s homeless community, but nearby residents are extremely worried.

Mayor Tim Kelly had previously called the hostel a “hotbed” for drugs and crime.

He says his transition to supportive housing would both reduce local crime while providing refuge for some of the city’s homeless.

To move in, tenants must be pre-screened for eligibility and will not be able to do so if they are on the sex offender registry or have been convicted of a serious violent crime.

“While we’re building a shelter somewhere else, we’re doing that…the community definitely needs it, that’s not what it’s about,” Kelly said. “That’s not what this building will be.”

“This model of buying a motel and converting it into permanent supportive housing has been successfully implemented for decades across the country,” said Tod Lipka, president of Step Up.

But many in the nearby community do not share the mayor’s optimism.

Councilwoman Carol Berz says she has received death threats from strangers about the development.

Many parents at nearby Silverdale Baptist Academy have expressed grave concern that the new apartments will attract those with an interest in harming their children.

“There’s back and forth about ‘is this a mental health facility or not? Said a resident, addressing Lipka. “I have a comment that says this is not a mental health facility. Sir, on the first part of your slide you say you are a provider mental health care.”

One woman addressed city officials and others involved in the project saying they were ‘getting crafty with words’ before adding: ‘this is a place for the homeless’ .

Chattanooga’s Director of Special Projects, Ellis Smith, then removed the microphone, responding, “No ma’am, they’re housed.” Do you have another question?”

“We could have avoided this whole meeting if there had been more conversations beforehand,” said another resident. “So on November 11, are you voting for this with or without hearing or responding to concerns? Yes or no?”

According to the project’s tentative schedule, the Chattanooga City Council could begin voting on the issue as early as early November.

A certificate of occupancy could be granted for the establishment as early as the second quarter of next year.

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