By: Drew Flora
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) Calls for affordable housing in downtown Chattanooga resulted in a year long study about the new needs residents are bringing to the Scenic City.
A 15-member panel that included city officials, developers, realtors, bankers, residents, along with others, came together to discuss the findings of the housing study presented by the Chattanooga Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency (RPA).
John Bridger, executive director for the RPA, presented an overview of the 83-page study and suggested Chattanooga form a Housing Task Force and put policies into place that would encourage livable, safe, and affordable housing for current and future residents of the city.
Summarizing the changes to demographic trends, RPA director of information and research, Yuen Lee said, “a combintation of smaller and single-parent families, higher unemployment rates and baby boomers transitioning into retirement correlated with an increase demand for smaller, more affordable housing.”
The presentation shared that an average Chattanoogan has $620 per month for rent, but the average rent in Chattanooga is $732.
“Sixty or 70 percent of households that make less than $30,000 are spending more than 30 percent on housing, which is considered, that’s over what’s recommended nationally,” said Bridger.
“Demand for lower-priced homes is increasing, especially affordable, quality homes in the urban overlay zone,” Lee said.
The city’s overlay zone is the area consisting of neighborhoods between Missionary Ridge and the Tennessee River.
The study showed that current multiple listing services (MLS) listings show only 325 properties in the downtown zone are priced at $100,000 or less. Two hundred homes are listed in the $75,000 or less range, failing to meet demand.
The RPA reported that the majority of people who make less than $20,000 a year live downtown even with a lack housing options.
City Council Chair Pam Ladd stressed that, in order for future housing initatives to be successful, additional elements besides facilities would need to be taken into consideration, specifically the livability and economy of a development.
“You’ve got to make sure the housing that we have available for low income has all the other elements of success: transportation, grocery stores, schools,” Ladd said. “It’s got to be a tighter environment.”
This is simple economics. Supply has to surpass demand for the cost to come down. Developers have a hard road ahead in trying to work around ordinances and current zoning issues. Chattanooga is full of potential, but this process is a marathon, not a sprint.