Opinion: Affordable housing needs still real for Budgetel refugees

Staff file photo by Olivia Ross / Ruby Williamson, a Budgetel resident who was 30 weeks pregnant when the Budgetel in East Ridge was closed by court order, is shown here holding a sign outside of East Ridge City Hall in mid-November. Some of the families still have not found permanent affordable housing.

The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition is now covering the cost of 18 hotel rooms for families displaced from the Budgetel Inn.

The coalition, United Way and other organizations in town were fronting rooms for more than five times that many -- 100 households -- after the motel was abruptly shut down Nov. 16 by authorities who claimed it was a crime-ridden public nuisance.

That one event right before Thanksgiving left the groups with the task of immediately trying to house 107 adults and 64 children with $100,000 -- much of it crowdsourced. Early on, the assistance groups saw a 61% spike in desperate calls for help. Eventually the city of Chattanooga and the Hamilton County Commission chipped in $50,000 each.

Although the evictions were sudden, the underlying problems had been building for a while.

After watching rents rise from $250 a month 20 years ago to $900 last fall, Latisha Evans had moved her four children to the Budgetel just about a month before she and her family found themselves out on the street with a mere four hours to prepare.

But Evans is one of the lucky ones. With assistance from the city of Chattanooga, she recently found a house where she could stay on a Section 8 voucher.

Sam Wolfe, the director of the Chattanooga Office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, told the Times Free Press last week that his department has so far found permanent accommodations for 29 households, consisting of 48 adults and 34 children -- many with working adults who lost jobs when they were displaced. Some have again found employment.

Now many of the remaining families still staying in hotel rooms either have a loved one with medical conditions or children.

So the need isn't past.

Invoices are still coming in from hotels, officials said Friday, and it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much funding remains, but the coalition has exhausted just about every dime, officials say.

It should go without saying that the task of finding permanent affordable housing is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

Even the more affordable places in our community right now are not affordable to people who are living paycheck to paycheck.

Families staying at an extended stay hotel may have $1,200 to cover the cost of a room for a month, which can severely deplete their income, but getting into a new place could run upward of $5,000 taking into account first and last months' rent, a security deposit and pets.

So dig deep, Chattanooga. These are our neighbors, and this is one place we can definitely make a difference in our world.


› Visit Homelesscoalition.org.

The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, since 1995, has been serving 11 counties of Southeast Tennessee.

The group has a hotel fund you can give to that sends 100% of donations to help individuals and families maintain emergency access to a hotel while they and other service organizations help find more permanent housing.