Chattanooga housing board approves greater 'flexibility, latitude' for affordable-housing application standards

Chattanooga's Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board approved multiple changes Monday to guidelines and requirements pertaining to the Chattanooga Affordable Housing Fund's application.

Sandra Gober, the city's manager for Housing and Community Investment, said the changes were about "latitude and flexibility."

"(We'll) be able to evaluate projects in the market based on changes in the current market and evaluate accurately and underwrite projects based on the capital needs of the project versus setting minimums and maximums," said Gober, who presented the proposed changes to the board.

According to chattanooga.gov, the housing fund "leverages federal, state and private dollars for the preservation and production of affordable housing."

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly has made affordable housing a priority, including in his first budget a $33 million line item – "seed money" - for his five-year, $100 million affordable housing initiative.

Among the changes approved by the board Monday was elimination of a $25,000 minimum and a $500,000 maximum for total funding requests. According to the document provided to board members, funding requests will now be determined case-by-case, based in part on demonstrated community need for the proposed project or activity, demonstrated need for the level of funding being requested, project timeline, beneficiary income, leverage ratio and alignment with the city's affordable-housing goals and objectives.

Under the new standards, households applying for rental housing cannot have income exceeding 80% - up from 60% - of the area's median income. The new standard for home ownership is 120% of the median, up from 80%.

"In light of the challenges we're having with affordable housing – not just in Chattanooga, but nationwide – (it's) just having the flexibility to evaluate, project by project, and determine the actual need in regard to what is feasible," Gober said.

"If we're talking about some of the larger projects, a $500,000 max wouldn't be feasible. If you're looking at density, larger projects, we need to be able to, in some instances, exceed that $500,000," she added.

The board also voted to allocate $55,000 to Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise for a housing-affordability analysis to be conducted by HR&A Advisors, a real-estate consulting firm with offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Atlanta, among other locations.

"I think this is a really timely study," said CNE president/CEO Martina Guilfoil. "(HR&A) has come to Chattanooga before – they're actually coming to town this week, doing some work with River City Co. on downtown economic analysis. They're very well experienced in the affordable-housing arena and have done studies like this across the country."

Contact Bob Gary at bgary@timesfreepress.com.