November 21, 2012

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An honest discussion of the affordable housing crisis in Chattanooga reveals the tensions that exist in … well, democratic capitalism.

According to the recent report compiled by Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Westside Community Association, in Chattanooga’s urban core, 25 percent of renting households pay between 30 and 50 percent of their total income for housing, and 28 percent pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing. Six public housing sites have been demolished since 1999. Four more are scheduled for demolition or disposal.

Among other facts, these were included in a presentation by COA/WCA in October that urged mandating developers to provide more affordable housing.

On Monday night, the Regional Planning Authority presented its own report, the product of a yearlong study, in a two-hour forum that included a 13-member panel of public officials, community activists, developers and a banker. RPA Executive Director John Bridger did not dispute the findings of the COA/WCA report, and in fact opened the meeting by saying thanking the coalition for “starting the process.”

But is was the discussion on urban housing the large crowd of residents, city officials including Chattanooga Mayor Littlefield, City Council Chair Pam Ladd and State Rep. JoAnne Favors, developers and others, had come to see.

The RPA study, like COA/WCA’s, openly acknowledged that the estimated 37,000 households making less than $35,000 are being crunched by housing costs, and that this was “especially severe” for renters. Its suggestions for increasing affordable housing in the urban core include assembling vacant properties that can be converted to housing and developing an “affordable housing trust” that developers could access for capital in a continuing tight lending market.  

Most controversially, the RPA report recommended a “carrot and stick” approach to developers, rewarding them for building multi-family structures and including affordable housing in their projects, and also levying a fee on non-compliant projects that would be “used elsewhere in the community.” Though less onerous than the changes proposed by COA/WCA, this met with resistance from at least one well-known developer on the panel, who openly opposed it, and who also complained about the ongoing costs of managing multi-family projects.

Councilman Andrae McGary, whose districts encompasses much of downtown and the Westside, agreed with both the “carrot and stick” proposal and a public/private partnership concept. “Without these,” he said, “we will not see much action on this issue.”

Bridger said the report would be presented to the city council in January. View the full report at


November 21, 2012

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