published Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Report finds high housing costs in Chattanooga's urban core


by Cliff Hightower

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The City Council unanimously approved on first reading an animal ordinance. The revamped ordinance, approved 9-0 Tuesday night, would create a separate board that would handle permits for entities such as pet shops and animal breeders. City Attorney Mike McMahan sought the change. He said the McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center should not be handling permits because it's a nonprofit agency. The council will vote a second time next week before the ordinance can become law.

Half of those living within the urban core of Chattanooga are burdened by high costs of renting or paying for a mortgage, a study released Tuesday states.

A coalition of groups handed the report to the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday night after its regularly scheduled business meeting. Courtney Knapp, a former housing and economic development planner in Boston and Lowell, Mass., said her report shows continuous building is occurring throughout the downtown area -- but not at levels considered affordable.

"It just hasn't been distributed equitably across the city," she said.

The Westside Community Association and the advocacy group Chattanooga Organized for Action have lobbied the City Council for several weeks to approve an affordable housing ordinance in the urban core, which runs from the Tennessee River to Missionary Ridge. The ordinance would mandate that a certain number of new housing units be set aside for affordable housing.

Knapp said she conducted her study after the groups spoke with the council two weeks ago and council members asked if other cities had the same type of laws, called "inclusionary zoning."

The report states more than 200 municipalities and two states have such laws.

Findings in the report include:

• More than one-quarter of renters in the urban core pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

• Almost half of homeowners live in unaffordable housing as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

• If the ordinance had been in effect this year, 83 affordable housing units would have been created from the proposed 833 units slated to be built in downtown in the coming years.

The City Council is set to listen to the groups again on Oct. 9.

City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she hoped the two groups would get together with Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, Chattanooga Housing Authority, downtown development firm River City Co. and local developers before the Oct. 9 meeting to get everyone's input on how the ordinance would affect housing.

"They need to hear what other groups are doing," she said.

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