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Contributed photo by the Chattanooga Housing Authority / Map shows the Westside area in downtown Chattanooga that will be studied over the next nine months under a visioning process led by the Chattanooga Design Studio.

The Chattanooga Housing Authority has launched a study of its oldest and largest public housing project as it invites local residents and other stakeholders to re-imagine the city's Westside.

The city housing agency has designated the Chattanooga Design Studio to oversee a 9-month study of the College Hill Courts, the 497-unit apartment complex that opened in 1940, along with neighboring development including Boynton Terrace Apartments, Gateway Towers, and Dogwood Manor. Collectively, the subsidized housing projects are home to more than 2,000 residents and city officials said the goal of the study is to upgrade the area and still maintain affordable and subsidized housing for the downtown area.

"We recognize that the CHA's role is to preserve and expand affordable housing opportunities in our community," Betsy McCright, the executive director for the Chattanooga Housing Authority, said in a statement Friday announcing the new study. "The planning process should identify a strategy that supports a one-for-one replacement of subsidized housing units in this district. This particular place in our city holds significant potential opportunity for residents who require access to jobs, education, and services."

The study area encompasses the area between U.S. 27, Riverfront Parkway, MLK Boulevard and Main Street, which has undergone numerous redevelopments as Highway 27 was built through downtown and other urban renewal projects reshaped the region.

McCright said the study will help the community create actionable plans and identify strategies to preserve subsidized residential units while identifying opportunities for more market-rate housing.

Chattanooga Design Studio has engaged an Orlando, Florida-based urban research group, EJP Consulting Group, LLC, to facilitate a collaborative planning process, which will proactively imagine the future of the district. EJP has extensive national experience in public housing revitalization planning and development. The consultant team was chosen by a diverse selection committee formed from members of a larger Community Advisory Group.

College Hill Courts resident Sharon Dragg said the EJP team "was my top choice because they said they want to help us gather our community's input and vision."

"We will be going door-to-door with surveys, and scheduling safe community workshops. We want to see what people know and hear their history in the Westside community," she said.

Charlie Newton, who has been educating youth through the Splash Youth Arts program for close to a decade in the Westside has been engaged as an artist-in-residence to capture the planning process.

"I would not be involved in this project if I didn't think we were going to make history.," he said.

Eric Myers, executive director of the Chattanooga Design Studio, said the study will prepare a neighborhood vision for the future of the Westside.

"The community faces historic challenges, many stemming from the origin of its development," Myers said. "We're excited to work with residents and stakeholders to assist in organizing a process that will lift voices and create clear and measurable housing goals that the neighborhood, CHA and other partners can implement."

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said he is encouraged that the study will include local residents and other stakeholders and is being done by "a terrific partner in the Chattanooga Housing Authority." The recommendations are expected next year after a new mayor is elected in Chattanooga.

"As our city continues to grow, it's essential that the families who call College Hill Courts and the Westside home are directly involved in shaping the future of their community," Berke said. "We are eager to see how they envision their community evolving in a way that promotes affordability, accessibility, and opportunity for everyone."

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / College Hill Courts in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is pictured Thursday, June 7, 2018.
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