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Tenants say John Sevier Center is like a 'town'

Robert Houk • Feb 18, 2019 at 6:46 PM

Tenants of the John Sevier Center said Monday their low-income housing facility is like a community, and residents consider themselves part of a big family.

One woman described the historic downtown building as “our little town” during a meeting of John Sevier residents, officials with the Johnson City Development Authority and staffers from Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in the church’s Christian Life Center.

“We’ve go a lot of good people there trying to help out each other,” she said.

Several of the 12 John Sevier Center residents in who spoke Monday said they were apprehensive about what would happen to them with the JCDA’s plans to buy the 10-story facility, update the 94-year-old building, relocate its150 tenants to new housing and eventually sell the structure for a more upscale development. 

“It’s like breaking up a family,” one woman said during the question-and-answer session. “It might be a dysfunctional family, but it’s a family.”

Another tenant said he likes “everything” about the John Sevier Center, and does not care for the anxiety he and other residents now feel knowing their time in the former hotel may be coming to an end. He also told JCDA officials he felt it was unfair that the center was itself was being blamed for the number of homeless and drug problems in the downtown area.

“Surely the city knows homeless people will be here regardless,” he said.

Another resident, who said she was once homeless herself, said the John Sevier Center has been a “godsend.”  She and other residents at the meeting praised the center’s management, as well as the help they receive from staffers of Munsey’s Melting Pot Ministry and the church’s associate pastor, Patty Muse, who also attended Monday’s meeting.

Residents said they have come to depend on the community resources and church support they can find in the downtown area. They noted many John Sevier residents do not drive, which means they must rely on public transportation services to get around.

Tenants also said those same services would be vital in a new location. Residents said they would like to see more green space, better security, washer/dryer hookups, a grocery store and picnic areas close to any new housing.

Dianna Cantler, JCDA’s liaison from the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, said the John Sevier Center project will take several years to get to its final stage, and assured residents Monday the JCDA wanted to include them in every step. Cantler said the feedback that she and others collected at the meeting would be used by developers to design new housing for residents.

“We  want to keep the lines of communication open,” Cantler said.

The Washington County Commission is expected to vote on a $4.5 million tax increment plan Monday to allow the JCDA to purchase the John Sevier Center and make needed repairs to the building. 

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