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Feb. 19, 2021

City and Haven of Mercy to return to court March 1 following emergency hearing

Chancellor John Rambo presided over an emergency hearing held Friday, Feb. 19 and will allow residents of the Haven of Mercy who lived at the property on or before Feb. 10 to remain at the residence until March 1, when the matter returns to court.

The Board of Dwelling and Standards Review issued the order to vacate and close 123 W. Millard St. on Jan. 28. This morning’s decision came following an appeal filed on behalf of Haven of Mercy Ministries, Inc. and Rodney S. Walter claiming proper notice to vacate was not provided to the occupants of the Haven of Mercy. All other orders of the BDSR remain in place.

“Determining who is an occupant of the Haven of Mercy is a difficult thing to do since all residents share the same address and the residency may change day to day,” said City Attorney Sunny Sandos. “Given the uniqueness of the ever-changing state of occupancy of the residents, all notices were provided to the owner of the building.”

All notices and orders were sent by certified mail to all legally interested parties (those with any financial, contractual, or legal right to bring action on behalf of the property). 

Chancellor Rambo issued this order to allow time for him to adequately review the complete records of the case, to include the Jan. 28 BDSR hearing and the City’s written records, to ensure proper notice was delivered before making a final ruling on the request for injunction.

At this time, the City has removed any device which would restrict access to the Haven of Mercy for the return of the approved residents.

“The Chancellor made clear that he wanted his order to reflect that the City of Johnson City and the BDSR has made considerable efforts and plans to address as much as possible regarding the immediate needs of the residents of the Haven of Mercy,” said Sandos.  

The BDSR’s Jan. 28 decision to temporarily close the building which houses Haven of Mercy was the culmination of a nearly yearlong process of City employees working with the property owner to bring the property into compliance with City fire and building codes. The members of the BDSR were compelled to issue the order to protect the lives and safety of the people who reside in the building as well as the first responders who may be called to the property in the event of a medical, fire or police emergency.

Johnson City Housing Authority Executive Director Richard McClain coordinated with the Salvation Army, Johnson City Downtown Day Center, Frontier Health - Turning Point, Manna House, Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness, ETSU Quillen College of Medicine and others to provide the residents of Haven of Mercy with medical, mental health, and crisis care as well as clothing and sleeping assignments. This group is currently assisting approximately 30 men who voluntarily left Haven of Mercy on the evening of Feb. 18 as well as those who vacated the property this morning.

“It is unfortunate that we have arrived at this point but the City of Johnson City cannot and will not sit by and potentially let another tragedy like the fire at John Sevier unfold,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “We are obligated to enforce these laws to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the occupants of the building.”