Mayoral candidate calls Berke's housing policies failures, proposes his own

Mayoral candidate calls Berke's housing policies failures, proposes his own

February 10th, 2017 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Chattanooga City Councilman Larry Grohn

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Mayoral candidates’ housing policies:

David Crockett:

* Mayor’s Council on Affordable Housing

Create a Mayor’s Council on Affordable Housing which will meet on an ongoing basis to evaluate and offer solutions to affordable housing issues in the city.

* Public-Private Partnerships

Reinvigorate “The Chattanooga Way” to empower public-private partnerships across the community.

* New Models for Affordable Housing

Consider new models for affordable housing, just as Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise is also looking at new models for their work, and work with CNE to bring about new and innovative change and solutions.

No New City Agencies

Oppose the creation of new government agencies to address affordable housing issues. He explained that Chattanooga needs to empower the people, local businesses, and more public-private partnerships.

Chris Long:

* Stormwater regulations

Propose legislation to scale back the requirements for builders’ stormwater fees and regulations.

* Scale back rules and regulations

Promote large-scale housing projects by changing rules and regulations that create barriers for builders and developers.

Larry Grohn:

* Affordable Housing Task Force

Convene an affordable housing task force within the first 100 days in office to develope a broad, system-wide plan for creating affordable housing on a neighborhood level.

* Affordable Housing Trust Fund

Create an affordable housing trust fund to support developers efforts to meet the affordable housing demand.

* Opportunity Zones

In neighborhoods identified as having housing decifits, create incentives for developers to build more housing and increase density.

* Senior Citizens

Work to enact legislation that will permanently shield senior citizens from paying any increase in property taxes at their principal residence.

Results from the city’s affordable housing initiatives:

The numbers reflect both the city’s programs as well as local nonprofits, such as Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and Habitat for Humanity, that receive funds or partner with the city.

Affordable Home Ownership — 60

Affordable Home Ownership Preservation — 345

Affordable Rental Producation — 406

Affordable Rental Preservation — 364

One of Mayor Andy Berke's challengers claims a key initiative of the mayor's — creating affordable housing — has failed, producing only one affordable home since the mayor took office.

"If the mayor was truly, truly interested in affordable housing, he would have done better than developing one house in three years," said Chattanooga City Councilman Larry Grohn.

Berke's campaign manager acknowledged the mayor's initial plan to turn back-taxed properties into affordable homes hasn't taken shape. But he said overall the mayor's affordable housing programs — which include efforts by local nonprofit groups that receive grant money or partner with the city — have created or preserved more than 1,000 affordable units in Chattanooga.

"Mayor Berke's solutions have created more affordable units in Chattanooga, while working with the reality of increasingly limited federal funds," said Berke's campaign manager, Tyler Yount. "Larry Grohn has had four years on City Council and, in addition to repeatedly voting against measures to increase affordable units, he has never introduced a single idea to enhance affordability. Why should voters expect him to start now?"

Over the last year, affordable housing has taken center stage in the city among a growing group of residents.

Last spring, a group of downtown property owners banded together to pressure Berke and the City Council to suspend another one of the mayor's affordable housing initiatives. Critics claimed that the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, program that offers tax breaks to downtown developers hadn't produced a single unit of affordable rental property.

In July, Berke revamped the program, calling it a success but saying it needed to be expanded to the rest of the city and include more stringent requirements for developers to receive a 10-year tax break. On Wednesday, Yount pointed to the PILOT program as one of the ways the mayor has increased affordable housing units downtown, and he said with the expansion it will drastically increase the percentage of affordable units.

Grohn, who recently released his own affordable housing plan, said even with the mayor's changes low-income families can't afford to rent from any of the tax-forgiven apartment complexes.

"Developers stay rich, Andy gets a photo-op, and you get stuck with the bill," Grohn said in a prepared statement.

Under Grohn's plan, he proposed revamping the PILOT program again and expanding the affordability options to require developers to set aside 20 percent of their rental units for individuals or families who meet the federal guidelines for 50 percent of the area's median income. He also said he wants to renegotiate the five housing PILOTS approved in 2015 for better terms.

Grohn's criticism of Berke in part stems from the mayor's housing initiative that was announced shortly after he took office to renovate or build homes on city property that was recouped through back taxes. But the program has been bogged down in legal hurdles for three years, and Yount said this week that the entity created to oversee the program, the Chattanooga Land Bank Authority, is still awaiting its 501(c)(3) status to operate.

Yount pointed to two of Berke's other housing initiatives as examples of how he has helped preserve homes in neighborhoods. A new blight reduction program offers incentives to developers for renovating existing homes and turning them into quality affordable housing, he said, and a Decode Day last fall helped bring two dozen homes up to code standards in the Avondale community.

"Frankly, if you want a real plan to increase quality, affordable housing, let's look at the one that has already produced results," he said.

Berke also is being challenged for mayor by former three-time councilman David Crockett and former builder Chris Long, who presented their own platforms for creating more affordable housing in Chattanooga.

Both Crockett and Long stressed the need for the mayor's office to expand policies beyond downtown and focus on providing more affordable, quality homes for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Crockett said he would accomplish that goal by forming a Mayor's Council on Affordable Housing, which would meet on an ongoing basis to evaluate and offer solutions to affordable housing issues in the city. He also said he would work to invest half a billion dollars over his first four years in office to reinvest in neighborhoods.

"We have revitalized our riverfront and downtown, but now is the time to revitalize all our Chattanooga neighborhoods," he said.

Long explained that the main hurdles to building large rental properties and renting the units at affordable rates are the extensive rules and regulations that builders and developers now face. Long proposed rolling back those restrictions, including scaling back the stormwater regulations that he said are inflating the costs for housing projects.

He said the city needs to invest in policies that incentivize builders across the entire city. If not, he said, "the only thing we're going to have nice around here is downtown Chattanooga."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick Smith at jsmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.


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