Relocating without transportation in mind could be “detrimental” to John Sevier Center residents – Johnson City Press (subscription)

“How are we going to get around? Are we going to be on a bus line? Or are we going to be in the middle of nowhere?” Burns said. “There’s a lot of concerns here. I’m concerned (about others losing access to essential services).

“People that don’t have food can go over to (Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church) and eat for free, there’s services up the road to help with your light bill and things like that — you’ve got 150 apartments here, and a lot of us are concerned,” Burns said.

Some of those service providers are worried as well.

Patty Muse, an associate pastor at Munsey, said they were “caught, really, by surprise” and that they’re “very concerned” about what the move would mean for the residents who depend on the daily meals brought they bring to the center.

“One of the things we hope is that the JCDA will help us ensure that there’s transportation and that they can get to the services,” Muse said. “Our great hope, is that the transit system can be expanded.”

Jennifer Whitehead, director of the Johnson City Downtown Day Center, said she’s also worried what relocation will do to the residents who depend on the transit system for their healthcare.

“If (they’re moved) on a bus line, will they have bus fare to get to their medical appointments?” Whitehead said. “We only have a limited amount of bus passes and I’m afraid we wouldn’t have enough to make sure all of them can get to their appointments.”

Whitehead also said that relocation away from downtown “could be detrimental to their physical and mental health,” and that it could also cause a “significant decrease to their health and overall quality of life.”

JCDA Director Diana Cantler, however, says low-income housing guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development mandate the new buildings be located near certain services.

“The JCDA is not going to pick where the residents are moved,” she said. “We’ll pick a developer, and it’s up to the developer to find land that will work. It does have to be on a transit route, because that is a part of HUD’s guidelines.

“HUD is really what determines so much of this,” she added.

Asked if Johnson City Transit would be willing to expand its services or potentially add a new terminal, a spokeswoman for the city said it was “too early to comment” and that any expansion or changes would “have to be assessed after we know where they are relocating.”

Still, residents were concerned both with a potential move away from those services, but also because of a perceived lack of transparency between the JCDA and the Sevier Center residents.

“A lot of people here think (the Johnson City Development Authority) is going to put us in the street,” Burns said. “Nobody knows anything; we’re all in the dark.”

On Sept. 13, four days after the JCDA finalized the $4.6 million purchase of the building, the JCDA held a meeting with residents, hoping to clear up some conceptions that “may or may not be true” and keep them in the loop during the process.

JCDA Chairman Robert Williams said the meeting was an important step forward to show the residents “that we care about them, that we love them … they’re Johnson Citians just like we are, and we’re going to be there for them.”

Cantler, meanwhile, used the meeting to reassure residents that the JCDA has their interests in mind.

“There’s a lot of things the residents are hearing that may or may not be true,” Cantler told the Press during the meeting. “We’re here to partner with them; we want to make sure that, as we’re moving forward, that they’re taken care of.”

Williams said he imagines the JCDA will begin holding these meetings “on a continual basis” and said they may make them a monthly affair as the project to revitalize downtown’s tallest building begins in earnest.

And while many residents and community leaders have expressed concerns, others are hopeful — excited, even.

“I think moving us away is going to benefit us more than hurt us, in my opinion,” said Tom Rule, who’s lived at the center for almost two years. “I think if we move it would benefit us as far as safety goes.”

Longtime resident Lowell Dalton echoed that sentiment during the Sept. 13 meeting, telling the Press he “ain’t really worried about anything,” adding that “they’re going to put us somewhere.”

And while most of the services the residents depend on haven’t formulated a plan for how they’ll take care of the residents once they’re moved, Muse is confident things will work out for the best.

“We feel like the JCDA does have their interests in mind,” Muse said. “They’re probably going to wind up with more suitable housing.”