A majority of those being helped by a local initiative looking to shield Hamilton County residents from eviction are Black and have children, according to a recent report.
About 64% of those aided by the Eviction Prevention Initiative in the county are Black, despite the population only representing 19% of the county, according to the initiative's quarterly report presented to the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday. In addition, 60% of affected households have children in the home.
The report covers data for all of those facing eviction in the county who were aided by the initiative between June 2020 and Nov. 2021.
"The [Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga] chose to invest in this program because it directly aligns with our priorities: to interrupt intergenerational cycles of poverty, to create pathways toward prosperity and economic mobility and to advance equity to address racial disparities in our community," foundation CEO Maeghan Jones told council members at their Tuesday afternoon meeting.
The initiative began as a pilot program that expanded last year after the city council allocated $500,000 in its budget to the community foundation for eviction prevention and homelessness reduction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report notes an 80% increase in homeless individuals between 2020 and 2021 in the county, and a map based on 1,200 eviction cases focusing on Chattanooga itself shows evictions mostly occurred in the districts of Councilwoman Raquetta Dotley, of East Lake, Councilwoman Marvene Noel, of Orchard Knob, and Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, of Eastdale.
Unlike landlords, many of those facing eviction do not have legal representation when they appear before a judge. The initiative can pair residents facing eviction with an attorney from Legal Aid of East Tennessee to help prevent the eviction or negotiate terms if residents must leave their homes.
The report said 184 households, including 400 individuals and 220 children, have avoided eviction because of aid from the initiative.
In addition, more than $265,000 in rent relief funds from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency have been distributed directly to landlords since March 2021.
Coonrod said she has a unique perspective on eviction issues because her parents were once evicted and she has personally struggled to pay the rent.
"Some people think that because we sit on this desk that we didn't have a hard experience," Coonrod said. "And when we get information as such, we view it from a different lens. So I'm grateful that you are all digging into this and want to get to the root cause. Because at any given moment, any of us can be at the heels of the court of mercy."
Dwayne Marshall, vice president of community investment for the community foundation, said the initiative is partnering with a variety of organizations to aid those at risk of eviction.
"We have a full-time social worker at Habitat For Humanity that's working with these families, pulling back the covers to get an identification of, prior to getting to the eviction scenario, what are some of the issues and challenges that families are facing so then we can get to the root cause of some of the challenges that are involved," Marshall said.
Councilwoman Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, said housing availability, homelessness and the need for job training are also important areas to address and that it demands teamwork among local organizations to actually get issues solved.
"It's so complicated, and if we don't approach that in a collaborative way, we're never going to get anything done," Hill said.
The community foundation's report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact have put many residents on the brink of losing their homes.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County residents are having to pay more for homes, according to the report.
The median home sales price in the county grew from $130,000 to $230,000 between 2010 and 2020. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment between 2016 and 2021 grew from $775 to $1,150.
Going forward, the initiative plans to build a database to track its effect on the community and also develop a tenant outreach program and education series, the report states.
In addition, the initiative will look to establish two advisory councils to speak with stakeholders about the initiative's work and increase its collaboration with other entities.