Chattanooga City Council punts decision on church-led affordable housing for seniors

A church-led proposal to build low-income housing for dozens of seniors in Brainerd faced strong headwinds from the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday, resulting in the decision on whether to move forward with the development being moved to the end of May.

Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church is proposing rezoning approximately 3 acres south of the church on North Moore Road to build a 79-unit apartment building for independent seniors.

The Rev. Gary Hathaway, pastor of Greater Tucker, told the council Tuesday evening the church has been blessed with the land, which is sitting vacant, and his congregation wants to be part of the solution to the local housing crisis.

"Our mission, really, as a church, is to minister to the needs of the community and our congregation," Hathaway said. "We know, and everybody knows, one of the greatest needs in Chattanooga today is affordable housing. Let me say, as a pastor, I see it every day. I get calls every day from people looking for a place to live because their rents are going through the roof."

Finding affordable housing has increasingly become a problem for Chattanoogans, as rent prices increase and development groups from outside the city and state buy and renovate existing apartment complexes. Addressing the affordable housing shortage is a focus of Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's plan for the city.

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The church's plan has faced opposition in the previous two months, with community members voicing concerns about water displacement, traffic safety and a lack of community engagement on the project. There were also allegations the church is using the project to make money.

The main funding source for the project would be low-income housing tax credits distributed by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

Gregory Owens, who lives two streets over from the church, told the council the pastor should make public the letters in support of the project and provide proof there is community support.

The planning commission recommended approving the project, with restrictions that the building not be taller than three stories, not be within 50 feet of other projects and be capped at 63 residential units.

Hathaway told the council he has met with the community three times and has buy-in from the neighboring Brainerd High School and two of the three neighborhood associations. The project has a sound plan, he said, which would address concerns about water displacement.

"We understand change is not easy. There's always opposition," Hathaway said. "But we believe the need for affordable housing is greater than doing nothing or standing still. Change is happening all over Chattanooga but not fast enough for those who are less fortunate, especially seniors."

Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties is helping develop the project, secure the tax funding and would manage the property, which concerned City Council Vice Chairwoman Raquetta Dotley, of East Lake, who noted the organization manages the Villages at Alton Park.

"I get complaints all the time from the Villages at Alton Park," Dotley said to Pennrose's regional vice president. "So my primary concern, of course, I'm always here for the community, but my concern is that the current community that you're serving, you're not serving well."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga mayor bets on long-term change in new plan for city)

Hathaway told the council he sees the project as a ministerial response to the housing crisis.

"We've had the land for over 25 years. We've done nothing with it. Nothing. It's just sitting there," Hathaway said. "I'm a man of the word. The Bible actually speaks against that type of inactivity."

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, of Eastdale, said she was concerned about the stigma related to people needing low-income housing, as though they were lesser than others or in bad situations because their communities have become unaffordable.

"Why would we think that they're in a worse situation because they need low-income housing that's affordable for them, for their income?" Coonrod said. "We're talking about people that's getting Social Security checks, that's getting widow's pension checks from their husbands that served in the military. But we're saying they're in a worse situation because they can't afford $1,200 a month? That they can get somewhere actually affordable - $600, $700 - is that supposed to be something that's seen in a negative way?"

Coonrod said the project should be workable because it would help seniors.

However, the councilwoman was the lone vote against deferring a decision on the project until May 24 to allow for more community input.

Councilman Isiah Hester, of Washington Hills, whose district the project would be in, said he did not want to divide the community and moved for the council to defer the decision.

"There's a genuine disconnect between the project and those that are in the community," Hester said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.