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Ken Smith, third from left, president of the Avondale Neighborhood Association, speaks to the need for affordable housing on Milne Street Monday afternoon. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced the components of a new Affordable Housing Fund on Monday as part of his Stronger Neighborhoods Tour that culminated in front of several blighted homes in the Avondale neighborhood. From left are Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Bishop Kevin Adams, Smith, Councilman Anthony Byrd, Joshua Lloyd, Kimberly Lloyd and Tenesha Irvin.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and other area stakeholders stood on a concrete slab in front of a rundown duplex off Orchard Knob Avenue Monday afternoon and gave details on a new affordable housing fund capitalized with $1 million a year for the next five years to increase housing options in the city.

The vacant, blighted duplex on Milne Street, and similar ones in the same neighborhood, were built in the 1940s and '50s for returning World War II veterans and their families, but they now show years of neglect. Berke said the homes would be a good example of the kind of housing stock now in the city that could benefit from the newly formed Chattanooga Affordable Housing Fund, which was announced earlier this month as part of the mayor's "Stronger Neighborhoods" tour.

The tour focused on three new initiatives, including the Chattanooga Affordable Housing Fund, the Small Business Corridor program and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund.

"We know that many people in our city feel like the choices they have are too restricted," Berke said. "They want more options for what they can do when it comes to housing, and they want to live somewhere where the jobs are."

Over the past few months, Berke said, the city has been engaging community members about how they can give more affordable housing options to people. He said the fund includes partnering with stakeholders to build new, affordable housing, remodeling current stock, such as the duplex on Milne Street, and preparing the next generation of homeowners.

Councilman Anthony Byrd represents the district and Avondale neighborhood where the duplexes are located. The neighborhood has a median home value of $67,500, with only 21 percent of the homes owned by residents. A majority, 61 percent, are rented while 18 percent are undeveloped, according to figures provided by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga and 2016 census numbers.

Blighted neighborhoods can deter economic development and lead to an increase in crime, studies show.

"Although we are doing this work as a community, we have so much more work to do," Byrd said. "We gotta get more young people and people engaged on how the process works and getting them in tune with getting their own piece of the pie and that American dream of home ownership."

Byrd said constituents can get more information at his "Coffee with a Councilman" meeting on March 30 at the Carver Youth and Family Development Center, 600 N. Orchard Knob Ave.

Ken Smith, president of the Avondale Neighborhood Association, said the association is working in the neighborhood to establish a home counseling program. The program would help set people up for homeownership, and Smith said those interested can contact him at 423-704-7451. Classes will begin in late March, he said.

"We want to move them through the process, help them every step of the way, get them to homeownership and keep them there," Smith said.

Anyone in Chattanooga can take advantage of the program, but participants will be required to live in the homes they buy. Smith said neighborhood leaders wanted to find a solution that wouldn't allow out-of-town investors to come in and buy up property without truly investing in the community.

"We want to get people who are invested in this neighborhood to live in it rather than just take rent out and not be involved," he said.

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.

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