The Times Free Press report on Feb. 7 about a $30 million housing project that targets UTC students states that a Virginia-based developer plans to build a 600-bed apartment complex on vacant property at 1428 Riverside Drive, hoping to capture students from both the University of Tennessee and Chattanooga State Community College. The article also points out that South Carolina-based Walk to Campus is also in the process of rehabbing downtown structures near UTC for affordable student housing.
I would like to know where is the $30 million housing project that would help some of the low-income families in Chattanooga get access to low-income or affordable housing? The Chattanooga Housing Affordability and Vacancy Report published by the Regional Planning Agency in late 2013 stated that almost all of the city's low-income residents are housing-burdened, meaning they are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and that there are few options for families with just one minimum-wage job. The report also stated that a household must have a minimum income of $27,800 to afford the median gross monthly rent of $722 in the city.
Being a current graduate student who was an undergrad at UTC, I can definitely understand the need for housing students, but why does this housing project need to be $30 million? It's because the developers know that with providing apartments for students, they will not only make back their money invested in the project, but they will almost certainly double or triple their profits.
When you are trying to provide housing for the homeless or offer low-income affordable housing, you know in the beginning that turning a profit should not be the main reason that you enter into the venture. Even Mayor Andy Burke's team has acknowledged that the city needs more affordable housing, but they have also found that it's not so easy to jump into the housing ring and provide affordable housing.
In a TFP article on Jan. 11, "Chattanooga affordable housing program bogs down; city plan is more promise than stimulus," the mayor's staff says state laws, zoning hurdles and legal barriers have hindered their affordable housing program. Donna Williams, the city's Economic and Community Development director, who heads the housing program, stated that "Coming from the private sector to work for the city, I wasn't aware of all the processes and delays."
Again, if we are all aware of this housing issue in Chattanooga, why are we allowing a developer to put $30 million into student housing? Why are we not trying to work with the developer to develop low-income housing that is accessible for all of Chattanooga? I hope that one day the powers that be will wake up and truly try to fix this housing issue that has bogged down Chattanooga for many years.
Treva Wright is a graduate student at Southern Adventist University and works at the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.