Editor's note: The median income for a family of four in metro Chattanooga is $61,700, but that is different from the median household income referred to in an earlier version of this story.
Affordable housing for most renters in Chattanooga should be priced at no more than $850 a month, but the average apartment with even just one bedroom is now priced more than 25 percent above that level, according to a new report from Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise.
Rental rates by the numbers
› $856 — Average monthly rent for studio apartment, requiring $34,240 or more of income not to be cost burdened
› $1,067 — Average monthly rent for one-bedroom apartment, requiring $42,680 or more of income not to be cost burdened
› $1,395 — Average monthly rent for two-bedroom apartment, requiring $55, 800 or more of income not to be cost burdened
› $1,594 — Average monthly rent for three-bedroom apartment, requiring $62,560 or more of income not to be cost burdened
Source: Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises “Housing at a Glance.”
The housing nonprofit's first edition of its new quarterly publication, "Housing at a Glance," tackles the topic of affordable housing and is now available online at cneinc.org/housing-at-a-glance. The publication represents a greater shift in CNE toward more policy work and community engagement, and the first edition aims to provide context on how "affordable housing" is defined by the U.S. government and used around the country and how residents can become more involved in the discussion locally, staff said.
"When you say affordable housing, everybody has a different understanding of what that means," said CNE President and CEO Martina Guilfoil. "To build good public policy, first you have to have a common understanding of what things mean."
CNE defines affordable housing the same way that the government does — the 30 percent rule. The government states that a person renting or buying a home can afford to spend one-third, or 30 percent, of their income each month on rent or a mortgage payment, according to the publication.
Based on average rents in Chattanooga in March 2019, a single renter would need an income of $42,680 a year and paying no more than $1,067 a month for housing costs to not be "cost burdened," according to the government's rules. But 55 percent of potential renters living in Hamilton County make less than $35,000.
"People need a common basis to even have a conversation, so this will help with that," Guilfoil said. "At this point, we are trying to be recommendation-neutral. This is our first one, so it will be interesting to see what takeaways are. It will be a process."
While the city has announced affordable housing initiatives, much of CNE's focus has been on revitalizing the Highland Park and Ridgedale neighborhoods in recent years. In 2017, CNE's Mai Bell apartment complex opened at the corner of Bailey Avenue and South Hawthorne Street. The $4.37 million, three-story, 49-unit building has residents with mixed incomes, including 11 income-restricted apartments.
At Bailey and Union avenues, CNE built a row of for-sale, single-family homes that all sold for $155,000.
Alexa LeBoeuf joined the nonprofit last year as CNE's first policy advocate and one of the six members of the new policy team. LeBoeuf's position was funded through a grant from the Benwood foundation.
"Last year when we were putting together our new strategic objectives and plan, we realized there really needed to be somebody on staff who could help us get to the root causes of affordable housing and support policymakers by being a source they could go to for research and understanding," Guilfoil explained.
LeBoeuf and the rest of the policy team will be focused on community engagement and organizing, education and advocacy. The first edition of "Housing at a Glance" mentions a need for a central source of information on affordable housing and neighborhood development that can address complex housing topics.
The publication will be available to pick up at certain locations downtown eventually, but right now it is only available online. LeBouef said she hopes the publication encourages residents who usually don't voice their concerns to get involved.
"It's meant to be a learning tool and part of a conversation — not just a drop and leave," LeBoeuf said. "We want this to be accessible, so that a variety of residents can feel empowered with information, empowered with tools and empowered to start having a dialogue."
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at email@example.com, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.