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Staff file photo / Keith Barclift

Catoosa County is working to form a coalition of public, private and nonprofit partners to look at whether a lack of affordable workforce housing is an issue in the county's housing market.

Last year, the county applied to the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, a competitive three-year program that helps communities develop housing and economic revitalization strategies.

Catoosa was not selected to participate in the community housing initiative, but the county was one of nine communities chosen to be part of the inaugural TVA Community Innovation Academy and Leveraging Brilliant Ideas + Collaboration to Change Communities Virtual Pitch Event. The nine participating communities were tasked with identifying a problem in their community and coming up with innovative solutions to address that problem in order to create a more sustainable and resilient community, according to a news release.

Catoosa County Economic Development Authority Director Keith Barclift, County Manager Alicia Vaughn and Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright attended the academy, and assessing the need for affordable workforce housing was the issue they chose to address.

"I think there's a lack of understanding about what's needed in the housing market and how to address that issue," Barclift said in a follow-up interview. "We're looking to satisfy that need in the community, to really understand what types of housing are available and what types of housing need to be available in the future."

To do that, he said the county needs a housing study, in which a third-party consultant assesses the current housing market and future market demand.

"That will be our path forward to provide the data that we need to help inform issues around zoning, issues around financing for housing developments, issues around what types of housing developments we want to come into the community," Barclift said.

When a company is deciding whether to locate in a particular community, one of the things they consider is whether the community has housing available that would be affordable for its employees based on the wages the company would be paying its workers, he explained. In order to bring more jobs into the community, Barclift said the county needs to make sure it isn't passing up opportunities to provide affordable housing.

"We're not trying to discourage higher-end homes from being built, but we understand at the same time that there needs to be a variety of housing available for the community," he said.

The public-private coalition they are working to form would help educate local elected officials on why workforce housing is needed, along with trying to promote mixed-use developments.

That would involve looking at zoning ordinances to make sure they allow for those types of development, as well as identifying where in the community mixed-use developments would be suitable and ensuring there is adequate infrastructure to support them, Barclift said.

The coalition would also work to educate the public on the affordable paths to homeownership that are available to them, such as 0% down financing available through the United States Department of Agriculture for residents of certain parts of the county who meet the income level requirement.

"If everything is successful, we want to host an annual event to let people know the steps we've made to providing those housing solutions in that particular market," said Barclift.

Those who have expressed interest in being involved in the partnership include area Realtors, local schools, the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, and nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity of Catoosa County, he said.

Barclift said Catoosa County and the cities of Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe have committed to being part of the initiative, though none have committed any funds at this point.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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