Westside residents push for housing ordinance

The Westside Community Association's affordable housing ordinance sparked a citywide discussion one year ago but no action.

With talk now of selling the former Harriet Tubman site for industry, backers of the ordinance said they are raising the issue once more with Chattanooga leaders.

The ordinance proposed that 10 percent of multifamily housing built in the city's urban core be set aside for lower-income families. It was produced by housing and economic development planner Courtney Knapp, the Westside Community Association and Chattanooga Organized for Action and was first presented to the City Council on Sept. 25, 2012.

It's been more than a year since housing officials announced that HUD approved selling the 440-unit Harriet Tubman site, but Griffith said she is still talking to former residents who are homeless because they can't find affordable housing.

"I had been waiting for the City Council to act on the petition we presented them in 2012," said Westside Community Association member Gloria Griffith. "I thought they would do something, but they have not, in the way of getting people housing."

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said the body is aware of the problem.

"I would not guarantee that their proposal will be accepted as it is, but we are conscious that housing is needed and we know we're not going to get it done overnight," Hakeem said.

Only two current council members held office when the ordinance was presented in 2012. Hakeem said the present council is trying to review and prioritize several concerns including housing and jobs.

City officials say they have their own affordable housing plan that they will implement this year.

Instead of using a housing ordinance, the city is working to persuade developers to build affordable housing.

Some developers had expressed opposition to the zoning ordinance, saying affordable housing is just as expensive to build as market-rate housing, but they can't make a profit because they have to charge less for it.

The city's plan is to give developers vacant land on which to build affordable housing. The city has identified 30 to 40 vacant lots that will be made available. Developers must build homes on the lots within 12 months of the agreement, said Donna Williams, administrator of economic and community development. Williams said the housing will be privately owned when complete.

Next year the city plans to give developers funding to build multifamily affordable housing on city-owned land and land that has gone into foreclosure, Williams said.

"We're in the process of developing a program to encourage developers who are planning to do just market rate to see how we can have some portion of that for affordable housing," said Williams.

Griffith is among several people opposed to the city's proposal to re-use the former Tubman site for manufacturing. The city said that will bring jobs to the community, but some former residents say affordable housing is the bigger need.

Chattanooga Housing Authority Executive Director Betsy McCright said the housing agency has not agreed to sell Tubman to the city and is considering five other inquiries.

"I know there is a lot of speculation in the community right now," she said. "But all I can say is that the housing authority has made no affirmative decision about the disposition of the property."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.


To read the proposed housing ordinance go to www.chatthousing.com.