WHEN WILL IT BE OUR TURN?
The situation faced by the parents of CSLA students, frustrated and furious at being passed over again in back-room deals by the Hamilton County Commission and the school board, has resonance for another urban “when will it be our turn?” situation.
CSLA is a magnet school, and has been pointed out by several other writers, does not carry enough political clout to move its plight to the forefront.
Magnify that issue to include a whole area of the city and what looms up is Brainerd.
I live in Brainerd, and have since I moved to Chattanooga in 2006. I love my house. I have great neighbors. The immediate area that I live in is beautiful, with lovely old trees, green spaces and cool old homes.
And the area of Brainerd Road near the Missionary Ridge tunnels is the middle of a much-wished-for turnaround. Multiple new businesses have come in during the last couple of years; Toes Yoga opened recently in the space vacated by beloved café Out of the Blue, with plans to add a vegetarian eatery; the Ripple Theatre, darkened by a disastrous flood nearly four years ago, is reopening in May. Energy in that area is running high and the vibe is positive.
But most of the rest of Brainerd Road, all the way out to where it becomes Lee Highway and East Brainerd Road, could generously be described as hideous and an outstanding example of urban blight. Councilwoman Carol Berz has been laboring for years to aid this area, and I salute her continuing efforts and the progress that has been made. But it’s going to take more than one dedicated person—it’s going to take commitment from the city, particularly in one very specific way.
If you’ve driven down this stretch of Brainerd Road at all recently (and who hasn’t; it’s a major artery), you’ve seen payday lender after payday lender, some stacked up right next to each other. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the building vacated when the IHOP moved across the street was going to be tenanted by—you guessed it—a payday lender.
These are legitimate businesses, some will argue. They pay their taxes, file their paperwork. They have a right to exist. I won’t debate that—but just who is it at the city that is greenlighting ever more of them, creating what I call “The Desperation Zone” in an area already saturated with these very problematic “lenders”?
Let’s take a couple of stories that ran in the local daily on Mar. 28—technically not connected with each other, and neither mentioning Brainerd by name, but oh-so-symptomatic of the problem.
On the front page: “Tennessee leads nation in minimum-wage jobs.” The story begins with people lining up outside the Tennessee Career Center in the Eastgate Town Center (located on Brainerd Road). The jobs available are mostly paid at minimum wage, which, since Tennessee does not have a state standard, defaults to the federal standard of $7.25 an hour.
Again, as has been pointed out over and over again recently, including here in the The Pulse, minimum-wage earners these days are often family breadwinners, not teenagers in their first jobs. If you need to keep the heat on in your home for your children, and your paycheck will not cover it, where do you turn? Family or friends, maybe, if you can. A nonprofit program, if you know about it. But for far too many, to payday lenders with their promises of easy cash and easier terms, sucking the borrowers down into an endless cycle. There is a reason why these companies are called “predatory.”
This leads us to the second story, in the business section, “Lawsuit against payday king gains class-action status.” Local businessman Carey V. Brown, who operated multiple brick-and-mortar payday lending sites as well as a website, is now facing a class-action lawsuit alleging that his companies spammed potential borrowers with offers of loans, preying on people’s desperation.
The point is: The City of Chattanooga needs to acknowledge that there are far too many of these types of businesses on Brainerd Road and stop issuing permits for them to open. The residents of Brainerd, who range from wealthy to very poor (with the majority tilting toward the poor end) deserve better. We are going to continue speaking up.
Because the truth is, it’s our turn. Time to re-zone our area out of its desperation.