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Contributed photo / Employees of Infinite Construction work on an affordable home on Cannon Street in East Chattanooga in 2018.

Over the years, news of public and private housing developments have made big splashes, only to fade into the woodwork with no action for a variety of reasons as the years go by.

Just off the top of our heads, we can think of a shopping center in Hixson, housing and retail in a former factory in East Lake and housing on a prominent McCallie Avenue corner that never happened. And they're but three out of many.

We hope Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's announcement that his administration will marshal $100 million in investment for new or rehabbed affordable housing in the next five years also will not go the way of the passenger pigeon.

Affordable housing has been a critical need for the city for many years, and the word "affordable" has taken on even more meaning recently after a new study showed Chattanooga area buyers are overpaying by about 35% for homes versus historical trends.

Kelly said home costs have increased 80.7% in the past seven years, and a recent report by the Eviction Prevention Initiative showed the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city between 2016 and 2021 grew from $775 to $1,150.

And the worst inflation in 40 years, which experts say could continue up to three more years, is not making things better.

Though statistics would be hard to come by because of the particular population, it also would follow that Chattanooga's dramatic increase in homelessness is because people have been priced out of their homes, whether because their wages haven't kept up with the cost of renting or owning a home, government money for rent during the pandemic has ended, the neighborhood is being gentrified, or some other reason.

Affordable housing, according to the city, is spending 30% of one's income on housing. According to a city news release, 43% of Chattanoogans are "housing burdened" (spending more than 30%) and 22% are "housing insecure" (spending 50% or more).

Kelly says his plan would put $33 million of "seed" money in the plan, with the rest to be raised by working with nonprofit groups, banks, foundations and other entities. It is said to be the largest such effort in the city's history.

The result, he said, will be thousands of affordable homes, whether they be single-family dwellings, duplexes, apartments or other housing units and will include a mix of workforce housing, missing middle-class housing and "supportive and transitional housing." Whatever is built, he said, will be in the character of the neighborhood in which it is built.

The $33 million, he said, will be in the fiscal 2023 budget and will not require a tax increase. However, it will draw heavily from two federal bills passed last year, the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The first was touted as a COVID relief bill but contained billions of dollars for other projects, including grants to states and local governments for financial assistance to households for rent, utilities and other housing expenses. The latter was a originally touted as an infrastructure bill but also wandered far off the mark.

As far as cities and counties go, that doesn't matter now. No matter how fiscally conservative some of them claim to be, they rarely turn down "free" money.

A city news release said the $33 million also will draw from the city's general fund, and officials said Friday also from surplus funds from the fiscal 2022 budget.

Once plans are finalized, the initial funds will be used toward site acquisition, public-private partnerships, gap financing, down-payment assistance and owner-occupied rehabilitation. Plus, Kelly noted (as he had pledged when he ran for mayor a year ago) that the plan can tap into the surplus property the city has that is suitable for affordable units.

The first projects, the mayor noted, could receive funding by the end of the year.

The city already had been announced, along with the Chattanooga Housing Authority and the Chattanooga Design Studio, as a partner in the Westside renewal plan, the details of which were announced in the Times Free Press Sunday. That plan — different from previous efforts in public housing — would allow most residents in a "build first" emphasis to stay in their homes until new, affordable homes are built.

Kelly said when he took office nearly a year ago, the need for affordable housing "quickly rose to the top" of the city's needs.

"It's not a simple problem," he told Times Free Press editors and reporters Friday, "and it's not going to be solved overnight. But if you don't get out in front of it early and powerfully, it's going to swamp the boat."

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