Chattanooga's new Orchard Knob Collaborative targets housing issues that lead to poor health

On the couch with the home owner are Habitat for Humanity representatives Lainey Webb, left, and Kate Beckwith.

Zandra Strickland has lived in her Orchard Knob home for 18 years, but until recently she was worried her days there might be numbered.

Strickland owns her home but is disabled and lives on a fixed income. Over the years, the list of needed improvements continued to grow. She started to wonder how long she could afford to keep living there as her home fell into disrepair.

"It's really challenging when you're on a fixed income, and I was trying to figure out what choices I had. Apartments are so expensive now - more than my house," Strickland said.

Studies show that housing instability, poor home and neighborhood conditions, and the financial burdens of high housing costs negatively affect a person's health and lead to higher health care costs.

Less than half a mile from Strickland's house, every day Parkridge Medical Center has patients come through its doors who could benefit from better housing, Parkridge Health CEO Tom Ozburn said.

"We see much better outcomes and results when patients have a good discharge plan - a safe home, a healthy home, they're not stressed about making payments or having a roof over their head," Ozburn said.

That's why Ozburn said Parkridge teamed up with the Orchard Knob Neighborhood Association, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area and United Way of Greater Chattanooga to form the "Orchard Knob Collaborative." The group has raised nearly $60,000 to address living conditions that contribute to poor health in Orchard Knob. Nearby CHI Memorial Hospital and University Surgical Associates have also donated.

Strickland's house is the first of five slated to undergo renovations.

"We believe that part of our calling is to be good neighbors and responsible neighbors - take care of each other," Ozburn said.

On Thursday, Habitat volunteers replaced the floor support in Strickland's bathroom. The crew initially thought water damage was to blame but realized it was a result of old, shoddy repairs, which they said is common.

"When you walked in her bathroom, everything was sinking to the middle, and at some point she probably would've fallen through the floor," said project manager Tom Wilson.

Strickland is deaf, and that makes it hard to find help she can trust, she said. She tried to get her roof fixed, too, but the workers wound up doing a bad job. Because they made her sign a contract, she was stuck paying for the roof for three years.

In addition to roof and bathroom repairs, Strickland will get a new crawl space door, subfloor vents, gutter, exterior door and smoke alarms. She said she "can't thank [the collaborative] enough" for their help.

David Butler, CEO and president of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga, said neighborhood revitalization can be contagious, because when people start feeling better about where they live, they start working on their homes themselves.

"Our goal for Orchard Knob is we're not going to leave here until we're done," Butler said.

Butler said often Habitat workers encounter social issues when they're working on homes that they're not equipped to address, but the collaborative brings partners who specialize in those areas to the table.

"A lot of social work issues can be addressed by people who are partners, which is really thrilling for us," he said.

Ozburn said even more partners have come to the table as they hear about the effort.

"As this project continues to morph and the neighborhood becomes more and more vibrant, we hope that grocery stores want to come in - it's not a food desert anymore," he said. "We really have big ideas and big goals for what we want this to be, and there's no reason why we can't be able to make that happen."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673.