“With its scenic beauty, stable population and economy, civic vitality and cross-sector partnerships, fiscal integrity, and strategic location, Chattanooga enters the 21st century as one of the most progressive and livable mid-size cities in the US. In this decade the city has won 3 national awards for outstanding "livability", and 9 Gunther Blue Ribbon Awards for excellence in housing and consolidated planning.”
- “About Chattanooga” at Chattanooga.gov
“In Chattanooga, the prevalence of low-wage jobs has contributed to the high poverty rate: 27 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line, compared with 15 percent nationwide. Women head about two-thirds of the city’s poor households, and 42 percent of its children are poor, nearly double the rate statewide.”
- “Low-Wage Workers Are Finding Poverty Harder to Escape” Published at the New York Times, March 2014
Chattanooga: Renaissance Myth and Working Poor Reality
The myth of Chattanooga is the myth of the Renaissance City of the South. A mid-sized Southern American metropolitan area which has only progressed forward from the economic hardship and ecological decline which had haunted Chattanooga decades before the present. If one were to look at our downtown with its bridges, attractions, and development; that progress becomes tactile. How can a city where the buildings have grown this large with spectacle this fantastical be moving any direction other than forward?
Yet, the reality of Chattanooga which is experienced by the majority of our low-income residents is jarring. Chattanooga is ranked 12th in the nation for income inequality. We are ranked as the 8th poorest health in the nation. We also hold the 7th highest rising rent in the nation with some of the most severely gentrified zip codes across the country.
This inequity is experienced racially, with persons of color in Chattanooga having tremendously less access to social and economic privileges experienced by its white residents. It is experienced by gender with women heading 2/3rds of all households in situations of poverty. It is an inequity which is socially produced by individuals profiting off both the myth of the Renaissance City and the exploitation of tens of thousands of Chattanoogans.
Chattanooga Organized for Action feels that it is time we stood up and declared that we, as a community of Chattanoogans, deserve better than growing poverty, housing costs, and social inequality. We can be the true Progressive City of the South in which every resident is able to participate in the wealth generated within our borders. We can be the true Progressive City of the South where every resident has an affordable place to live and is allowed a living wage. We can make this true Progressive City of the South happen through action.
Throughout the summer, COA will be hosting a series of meetings in order to collectively educate and empower one another to act for the improvement of our community. It is our own experiences of wage poverty, economic inequity, and social injustice that are our best tools in building a society wherein this suffering can end. We know that no matter how many statistics the New York Times and other national media and research bodies can shame the political leadership of our city with, real change will not come until the voices of our residents are loud and clear that this injustice must end. We can be our own best advocates for the end of poverty as we know it in Chattanooga. Together, we can reach a richer understanding of the Chattanooga which is so often neglected by local politicians and the wealthy holders of power.
Invite your friends and fellow residents to take a definite part in the process of moving our city forward. Learn and educate with Chattanooga Organized for Action.
An over 4,000 affordable unit housing deficit is not a problem… it is a Crisis. Chattanooga has two of the top most gentrified zip-codes in the United States and the 7th quickest rising rent in the nation. There is not one answer to fix the city's problems; there will need to be many solutions. But there will be no change without public action and progressive policy.
Chattanooga Organized for Action (COA) has openly called for a re-evaluation of the city of Chattanooga’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Program for Affordable Housing since early in 2015. This program, which is currently administered by River City Company and the city’s Health, Education and Housing Facilities (HEB) Board, has demonstrated itself to be ineffective in addressing the needs of a majority of Chattanoogans. These Chattanoogans, particularly those in working class communities and communities of color, are unable to meet the income requirements placed upon the residents of these units. The current program also does nothing to support the creation of affordable units over the long term. For a more thorough analysis of the current PILOT program, Click Here.
In order to ensure that all Chattanoogans have housing that is affordable as well as support for sustainably diverse communities, COA is advocating for an expanded PILOT program modeled after more successfully inclusive programs. There are many examples of inclusive and successful housing PILOT programs across the United States. COA’s recent dialogue with John Baker of the Memphis Health, Education, and Housing Facilities (HEHF) Board demonstrates the significant contrast between Chattanooga and Memphis’ PILOT program.
It is important to note that in assessing our Affordable Housing PILOT program in comparison to Memphis’s program, our city and Memphis have nearly identical income and wage issues. According to HUD, the Memphis Area Median Income (AMI) is $58,000 for a single person. The Hamilton County AMI is $59,000 a year. Memphis has a poverty rate of 27.2% in comparison to Chattanooga’s poverty rate of 27%.
We stand side by side as two cities suffering under the crises of economy and housing.
MEMPHIS PROGRAM DETAILS
1. The Memphis program reaches a far deeper level of affordability than the current Chattanooga program.
The Memphis program specifies that 20% of the project's units must be occupied by households whose income are below 50% of median income for the county, or 40% or more of the units must be occupied by households whose income are below 60% of median. The standards for the PILOT program are meant to mirror the standards of the State Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) system, so that affordable housing developers do not have to operate on two divergent sets of standards. Currently, the Chattanooga program specifies 20% of the units at 80% AMI. In Chattanooga, this results in studio apartments designed to cost around $800 a month in exchange for the tax breaks.
2. The scope of the Memphis program is far larger than Chattanooga’s current program.
HEHF currently has around 75 properties enrolled, but the Board has approved over 100 projects since the start of the program in 2002. There are currently 15,000-16,000 units involved in the program. The area approved for PILOT projects, what is referred to as the “capture area,” is the entire city of Memphis. The downtown business core development is overseen by the Downtown Memphis Commission, which also issues separate PILOTs for multi-use apartments. The Chattanooga PILOT program currently affects the Downtown area. A wider scope would allow affordable housing to be developed in other areas of the urban overlay with incentives better fitting the development of those areas.
3. The Memphis program is far more thoroughly monitored for compliance to the tax incentives.
HEHF receives quarterly reports from each property. For every report, they also ask about any changes of management for the property. Managers use the quarterly reports to fill in blanks for every property. The HEHF board crunches the numbers to give an electronic report card for compliance. Twice a year HEHF “puts boots on the ground” to inspect every property for compliance with the program. An inspector walks around with a building manager, takes photographs, and judges the state of the property. Currently in Chattanooga, oversight over the PILOT tax break program is handled by a non-government entity with no public reports or regular inspection of properties in the program.
4. The Memphis program has a formal process for housing developers who are non-compliant with the PILOT agreement.
When properties are out of compliance, they are put on notice that they will be kicked out of the program; usually a 60-day notice. Past issues with compliance in the Chattanooga PILOT program have resulted into audits and even legal action in order to ensure compliance to the agreement.
Towards a Poverty-Free Chattanooga
Poverty. Income inequality. Racial disparities. The challenges and social injustices that too many Chattanoogans face are staggering.
To raise awareness and generate solutions about the critical need to combat and reduce poverty in the Chattanooga area, Chattanooga Organized for Action is launching a new campaign called Poverty-Free Chattanooga. Following the model of other U.S. cities with successful poverty reduction initiatives, such as Traverse City, Michigan, and Savannah, GA, the purpose of Poverty-Free Chattanooga is to make poverty reduction and elimination a key public policy priority in the city of Chattanooga.
Creating and Demanding Anti-Poverty Policies
What can our city do to reduce poverty? What solutions have other cities implemented?
We need YOU to get involved!
One of the key components of Poverty-Free Chattanooga will be the coordination of a Poverty Reduction Task Force. The Poverty Reduction Task Force will be a group of individuals representing numerous and diverse communities, nonprofits, and public and private sector entities tasked with developing progressive policies and initiatives that local and state governments, nonprofits and the private sector can follow to reduce poverty rates within Chattanooga.
Poverty-Free Chattanooga will be hosting the Poverty-Free Chattanooga Kickoff to get things started, and you’re invited to join us!
Poverty-Free Chattanooga Kick-off Event *lunch provided*
Monday, July 7th, 2014
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Development Resource Center
1250 Market Street, Suite 2000
Chattanooga, TN 37402
To learn more about Poverty-Free Chattanooga and how to participate in the Task Force, please contact Perrin Lance at 423-653-2393 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/povertyfreechatt.
In addition, PFC will be hosting additional planning meetings as well as community awareness and poverty simulations workshops throughout the summer.
Chattanooga Organized For Action
The mission of Chattanooga Organized for Action is to assist individuals and organizations in becoming the essential agents of real systemic change to achieve social, economic and environmental justice.