EHDA sets pace for other housing developments

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   In many communities public housing suffers from the stigma of being a hub for criminal activity. But such is not the case at properties under control of Elizabethton Housing and Development Agency, where a sense of community and caring prevail.
   Lawns are neat and well-manicured; Resident Services Program coordinators Vanessa McQueen and Tony Carden offer weekly homework help, game days, movie days, and other activities; there is a Scouting program for kids, cooking classes for residents, and numerous other opportunities for involvement.
   On Thursday, for example, EHDA will host an Easter egg hunt at 2 p.m. on the office lawn and adjacent playground for children living in the housing development. The event promises to be such a good time that even the Easter Bunny is expected to drop by.
   At Tuesday's meeting, Executive Director Kelly Geagley told EHDA commissioners there has been only one eviction at the housing development so far this year as a result of criminal activity.
   "That's a result of our substation," Geagley said after the meeting.
   Before Elizabethton Police Department established a substation at Pine Ridge Circle, "there were a lot of lease terminations," Geagley said. "Then when we first got the substation there were a lot of lease terminations (due to follow-up on criminal activity). It's kind of leveled out now. Our goal is to have zero -- but that's easier said than done."
   Geagley commended Ptl. Jesse Pena and Ptl. Jason Shaw. "I think they're doing a great job. We keep the lease terminations down. It doesn't do us any good whatsoever to lose people: We've got an empty apartment and a mad resident out badmouthing us, saying, 'I wouldn't live there ...' "
   Another blight on EHDA's public housing occurs when someone is booked in to Carter County Jail following arrest and their driver's license still lists their address as Pine Ridge Circle or one of EHDA's other housing locations, even though they might not have lived there for years, according to Geagley.
   "The officers are worried about being safe and getting people arrested and booked in. They can't see that, but that's a problem. I'd say probably three out of four (persons) in the news beats in the paper who have a Pine Ridge Circle or public housing address no longer live here, but that's what's on their driver's license.
   "A lot of times people say, 'I saw where somebody got arrested for seventh-offense DUI and you're letting them live up there ...' and I say, 'No, they haven't lived here for three years,' " he said, as an example.
   While many state and federal programs are struggling to stay within budget, Geagley said EHDA will get a jump start on next year's capital improvements at the housing development thanks to a low bid on renovations from Chapman Construction Co.
   EHDA's 2001 Capital Fund Program had $509,420 earmarked for resurfacing parking lots, establishing new parking lots, and doing porch repair, Geagley said. Chapman submitted the low bid of $278,400, leaving EHDA with more than $200,000.
   Many of the housing agency's buildings are 30 years old and in need of roof replacement and gutter replacement. Because Chapman's bid came in lower than the amount of money available, Geagley said, "We'll probably just rebid for the next year's work we had planned and whoever puts the low bid in can start the roof replacement."
   In other action Tuesday, EHDA commissioners approved resolutions authorizing a total of $756.91 in actual travel expenses for employees/commissioners attending workshops/seminars on agency business matters, and approved a resolution to write off and dispose of equipment valued at $1,571.15.