After city staff found no one living in the Haven of Mercy’s annex, a Johnson City board scrapped a scheduled hearing on Thursday that would have decided if there was enough evidence to declare the building unfit for human occupation.

Code Enforcement Supervisor Will Righter and another staff member visited the homeless shelter on Thursday to do an inspection and did not find any residents living in the annex.

During a meeting of the Johnson City Board of Dwelling Standards and Review on Thursday, staff recommended that board members pull a scheduled show-cause hearing from their agenda.

A show-cause hearing serves as an opportunity for the board to hear city staff present evidence about why a structure is not suitable for human habitation. If board members find there is enough proof that a building does not meet minimum housing standards, they can schedule a public hearing for a later date.

Since there was no one living in the building, Righter explained, there was no cause to hold a hearing, which would have specifically focused on the Haven’s annex and not the remainder of the property.

The Haven of Mercy has two main structures: A main residence close to the road, and a back annex where food prep occurs and meals are served. The annex also has some living and storage space upstairs.

City officials have said they received a call on July 7 from someone who stated they lived in the annex. The caller, the city said, told them power had been off in the building for several weeks.

Although they ultimately dropped the hearing, board members did initially push back against the recommendation from staff.

At the end of the meeting, Board Chair Jenny Lockmiller made a personal plea that the shelter secure the annex and limit the amount of time people spend there.

“I pray every night that there is not going to be a disaster at that building at my hands because we have been unable to protect the people in that building,” she said.

Board members also decided to continue an ongoing codes enforcement case at the homeless shelter to their Aug. 26 meeting, during which they will get an update on repairs. The shelter has officially pulled permits, which means work can begin. In June, the Board of Dwelling Standards and Review ordered that the shelter purchase a building permit by its July meeting.

Making progress

On July 16, Johnson City attempted to shut off power to the Haven of Mercy after hearing that a contractor found burn marks on an electrical panel at the annex.

Fearing the potential for an electrical fire, the city asked BrightRidge to disconnect power to the property. However, the city said BrightRidge employees were denied access to the shelter, and they ultimately left without shutting off electricity.

On Monday, the city’s chief building official, Jeff Canon, and the owner of the Haven of Mercy, Grant Rockley, agreed to a set of milestones the homeless shelter would need to meet in order to prevent the city from reissuing the order to shut off electricity.

One was that the Haven must have a licensed contractor pull permits to start work on repairs to the structure, which is connected to the existing codes enforcement case at the facility.

The second is that a licensed electrician sever all electrical connections to a hazardous panel in the annex so that it is disconnected from the main building.

Johnson City Development Services Director Preston Mitchell said Thursday the Haven successfully met all those prerequisites.

“With the actions that have occurred this week on the part of the Haven of Mercy, the city is very pleased and feels hopeful that we will have repairs made on the entire facility in a reasonable amount of time,” he said.

Amber Floyd Lee, one of the attorneys representing the Haven of Mercy, said Wednesday that the shelter and its representatives were “disheartened” by the city’s attempt to disconnect power last week, but they’re pleased to have reached a resolution with the city.

“I have reached out to city staff and shared my cell number and reiterated that if they ever feel like they do not have information or the access they need to address safety concerns they can contact me,” Lee said. “We remain hopeful that both parties continue to act in good faith.”

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David Floyd covers Johnson City government, Johnson City schools and Ballad Health for the Johnson City Press. He grew up in East Tennessee and graduated from ETSU, where he was the executive editor of the school paper.

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