Rev. Brian Merritt’s Statement at the Open Hearing Of the Chattanooga Housing Authority

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Good afternoon. I am the Rev. Brian Merritt. I am the evangelist for Mercy Junction a ministry housed in Renaissance Presbyterian Church. I also preach at Renaissance which is the only church located in College Hill Courts. Today people of faith know Christ is in College Hill and East Lake Courts. Yet, we meet today in a time and a place that is difficult for so many. As we meet at a so called public and a so called hearing by those who are wards of hundreds of Chattanooga’s most vulnerable children and adults we are pressed by the injustice inherent in calling this meeting in this place, this time of day, and this lack of care for maximum participation by those directly effected by words like demolition and vouchers for a nonexistent public housing stock. This hearing is not accessible to a majority of residents whom you claim to represent.

Public statements by employees of the Housing Authority do not match the statements of this board. Last week’s discussion of application for College Hill demolition with HUD, the already 3 year plan to close College Hill/East Lake Courts and the manager who told me privately, and I quote, “everything is for sale.” We need an accounting of the dissonance between your public statements and these opposing public statements.

The Christian and hebrew texts are explicitly clear in their thoughts on the spiritual importance of defending the housing rights of the most poor and vulnerable in our community. Prophets like Micah leave no ambiguity in their condemnation of a powerful elite that would steal homes of the vulnerable for their own gain. Likewise, when a part of society’s elite approached Jesus about following him Jesus replied, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” The entire ministry of the Christ which too many of us cavalierly say we identify may not be amongst us at all. We do know with certainty that Christ is present inside College Hill and East Lake Courts day after day. That same Christ accompanied the residents of Harriet Tubman as their lives were turned upside down for the possibility of industry to profit only a few elite in this city.

So, Mercy Junction stands with Jesus in College Hill and East Lake Courts against those whose want expediency, safety, power and crave a greed blinding them to Christ’s misery amongst our neighbors. Nothing less than the extreme political care many in power devoted to the massive budget for our police force will be acceptable for the more important issue of losing our souls when our friends lose a protective roof over their head. True people of faith will accept nothing less than an complete, transparent accounting for the future housing of every single grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, sister, brother or child displaced by this artificially created possible human rights tragedy. We have only begun to follow in the footsteps of Christ. It is nothing less than following in Christ’s footsteps to the least of these that Chattanooga can really claim Renaissance. Christ is in, amongst, with, present and suffering amongst those in College Hill and East Lake Courts today. We intend to stand with Christ no matter the cost because to abandon College Hill and East Lake would mean abandoning Christ. Thank you.

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5 thoughts on “Rev. Brian Merritt’s Statement at the Open Hearing Of the Chattanooga Housing Authority

  1. Rev. Merritt, please keep up the good works and speaking up for the downtrodden, poor and the vulnerable. To speak up for those who cannot is good works. We must push these greedy mongers to accountability.

  2. Rev. Merritt,
    As someone who works near the East Lake Courts, I would like to hear a proposed solution for the problems that plague these “projects”. Seldom a week passes that I don’t see yellow police tape marking a crime scene when I pass. Fights and drug deals in daylight are the norm as I pass. Sometimes, I have to stop and wait for a handshake between cars in which contents unknown to me are passed between vehicle occupants. These building are falling apart, and do not create a safe and healthy living environment for the poor who live there.

    In addition to pointing to elite rich people that want to level the homes of the poor, I would love to see a workable solution to the crime and health problems (backed up sewer, bold, water damage, etc) that plague this complex. The CHA talks about one hundred million dollars to repair the buildings. I have no way of knowing if this is accurate or not, but is sounds like a lot of money, that could be used for much safer and cleaner housing to me.

    Thank You,
    David Lapham

    1. Thank you for the responses. There have been community responses from the Westside that have been democratically solicited by residents. These have been summarily ignored. As much investment as the city and state have put into VW, River City developments and the expansion of police can and should be focused on these communities. They have suffered from active neglect. The reason they are falling apart is corruption, malfeasance and an over focus of our elected leaders on pushing gentrification. The figures for fixing these units is not connected to any real, transparent assessment of costs. Instead we are asked to trust them on these costs. The Westside community organization put out a 3 page statement at the hearing addressing wide discrepancies in law and CHA practices. Plus, beginning solutions that are much more democratic than the current low income housing boards.

      On crime this is a symptom of a much greater moral and desperate socio-economic problem than is merely inside this community. Meth and pot are also in many communities in TN. We have not equitably shared wealth in all our communities and given adequate opportunities for job training, trade, fair wages for work and guaranteed employment. My guess is that when people are not hopeless and unnecessarily incarcerated then much of these things begin to abate. It is that we morally shirk a collective responsibility to all our communities by giving an overwhelming advantage to a few.

  3. David,

    I don’t know your faith, but from my Christian perspective (and what I believe Mercy Junction ascribes to as well), our empathy for the people of College Hill and East Lake Courts needs to trump our fears of the violence committed there.

    Of course, I’m not saying that violence and crime aren’t important issues to these complexes– they’re paramount. But put yourself in one of the resident’s shoes. Hundreds of families, many living in poverty, are housed there. So, while we work/volunteer/drive by the area, the residents must live among the violence perpetrated by a few of their neighbors. They have to live next to the gun fights we hear about on the news. Their children have to walk by the drug deals (you mentioned) taking place. They don’t get to drive by the yellow caution tape from the safety of their vehicle–they live next to it.

    We get to see a news report on this stuff. We get to leave the area when we choose and drive home before dark.

    They have to live it.

    So, yeah. Let’s find a way to help reduce the violence. But our support should be for the people there…not for the ones, like us, that have the privilege to leave the area if we feel unsafe.

    You’re asking for a proposed solution? The solution starts with you just as much as it starts with Mercy Junction and city authorities.

    It was the city authorities, not the residents, that neglected the buildings for so long that they fell into severe disrepair. A resident can’t fix an ageing sewage system or electric wiring. So now, they want to displace the residents, many who are children or elderly, and offer no viable alternative for them to go. Like Rev. Merritt said, the voucher alternatives they’re proposing are severely inadequate.

    The solution is not an easy one; it’s not something we want to hear. There’s no simple or magic fix. It starts with a few dedicated people who won’t stand by idly while the city demolishes the only safety net for our disadvantaged neighbors.

    We’re only going to make progress when people like us stop demanding solutions from others and start standing together to fight for them.

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