In two decades, the Chattanooga landscape between Highway 27 and the Tennessee River will look significantly different from how it looks today.
A big part of that will come from the redevelopment of the former Alstom site, currently tabbed as The Bend. But another part — adjoining The Bend — is the numerous public housing projects in the area, including the city's oldest public housing site, College Hill Courts.
In the city and across the country, public housing has been and is being re-imagined. In the first decade of this century, for instance, the Chattanooga Housing Authority applied for and received funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to demolish the Spencer McCallie Homes in Alton Park and build new single-family and multi-family homes, which are called The Villages at Alton Park.
Chattanooga Housing Authority Executive Director Betsy McCright believes it makes sense to get ahead of the curve with the 81-year-old College Hill Courts and the other public housing units in the area, including the Boynton Terrace, Gateway Towers, Dogwood Manor, Ridgeway, Golden Gateway, Boynton Overlook and River View Tower apartments, all of which are home to some 1,500 people.
Just getting all the units up to current HUD standards would cost $63.2 million; making the repairs and adding the needed community supporting infrastructure would take $94 million. So a new broader plan makes sense.
But nobody's going anywhere fast.
Though the future of College Hill Courts began to be discussed in August 2019, a 30-person community advisory group seeking to solicit a wide array of opinions and desires was formed in September 2020 and is ongoing. By June or July, CHA and its partners, Florida-based EJP Consulting Group and Chattanooga's Urban Design Studio, hope to offer a plan for residents and city officials to consider.
But, officials say, nothing will be final after the plan is unveiled, anything that happens won't happen all at once, and so many variables can and will change the timetable in which any plan is executed.
Among other things, the plan will turn on how much land is able to be involved and what kind of financing is secured.
Indeed, Rhae Parkes of EJP Consulting Group said the whole project could be a decade or more in development.
The type of housing that eventually would be developed is also up in the air. According to surveys, the only thing residents don't want are high-rises, of which the area currently has five.
"There is interest in diverse kinds of housing," Parkes said, including single- and multi-family units and live-work spaces. "It's central that not all of them be the same."
The financing, the planners said, will come from a combination of federal, state and local funds, plus private, corporate and philanthropic funds. To date, no total cost has been established.
"It's like trying to do a kubuki dance," Parkes said.
They hope to tap both into a grant from the federal Choice Neighborhoods program, which is the successor to the Hope VI program under which the Villages at Alton Park were built, and any available infrastructure funds from a pricey, catch-all bill the Biden administration wants to pass.
Parkes said with the city of Chattanooga's help they will apply for up to a $35 million competitive Choice Neighborhoods grant in 2022.
But, grant or no grant, infrastructure funds or no infrastructure funds, the project will go forward.
"We're not undertaking this thinking we're not able to deliver," McCright said.
"All our eggs are not in the federal basket," Parkes said. "Federal money would expedite moving the big pieces along faster. It may take longer if we don't have a shot of federal money. That doesn't mean the plan won't go forward.
The planners noted it is important for residents to understand that even when work get started several years down the line, it will be done in a "carefully sequenced," phased strategy. Ideally, they would start building new units on vacant land, then allow residents to move into the new units before working on the site where the residents lived previously.
In realty, that won't happen for every unit and every resident.
All of the uncertainties that can crop up and all the changes that will be made before any plan is put in place are why the community's been involved from the beginning and will continue to be involved.
"We want to have a vibrant neighborhood," McCright said.
A project this size will take large doses of patience and collaboration. But if both are present throughout the process, the final project for 1,500 people — and more who might be drawn there — will be better off.