Printer Friendly

Chattanooga mayor promotes affordable housing.

When it comes to developing one of the nation's most ambitious affordable housing programs, it helps to have had first-hand experience with the problem.

Chattanooga Mayor Gene Roberts knew the impact of living in unfit housing. He grew up in a part of Chattanooga so filled with the stench of the local city dump that his neighborhood was referred to as Onion Bottom. Career choices for kids from that part of town were few, he said, "You could preach, teach or go on the hustle."

Roberts was lucky. He found his way out, and up. Years later when Chattanooga's housing stock was surveyed and the harsh fact came to light that over 13,000 units of substandard housing existed in his southeastern Tennessee city, he remembered the lessons he learned in Onion Bottom.

"In some cases, the houses were dilapidated, even dangerous--and they were occupied by our families and children," Roberts said. The solution? The creation of the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise program, a nonprofit organization with a mission to eliminate substandard housing as a major issue.

And, the result? An affordable housing program that James Rouse, Enterprise Foundation chairman, calls the "lighthouse of the nation."

"We knew we needed a unique solution," Roberts said. "The answer wasn't to rely on what government alone could do. We had to tap into the community's resources and create a private/public response."

The affordable housing plan, he realized, won't ring a bell with everyone. Some are on the public housing track and are determined to stay there, no matter what; chances of influencing that kind of personal decision are slim, housing experts say.

CNE's likely candidates were families and individuals cast in the role of the working poor or in the low and moderate income levels eager to do something to improve their living conditions.

A cadre of leading decision-makers provided clear thinking and a no-nonsense business plan to create the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise program. Key leaders were businessman Robert Corker, Rick Montague, then head of the private Lyndhurst Foundation, community activist Mai Bell Hurley and others who recognized that a family's dream begins with a decent place to live.

Rouse's Enterprise Foundation was instrumental in taking Chattanooga through the birth process; even now, CNE maintains a cooperative relationship with the Columbia, Maryland, organization. In 1991, Rouse hosted the annual meeting of the foundation's board in Chattanooga.

Founded in 1987, CNE is in its fifth program year. To date, over 1,900 families or individuals have received assistance to either purchase a home, upgrade a home or locate a rental property. Others have received educational assistance so they can build a sound credit history and learn how to maintain a home.

CNE's success is based in the public/private partnership that now results in an annual budget of $7.8 million.

The 1992-93 fiscal year's money comes from a $1 million annual grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation; the city's allocation of $1.65 million, which is over three-fourths of the federal community development block grant funds given to the city; and a line item from the city's general fund of $1.5 million.

Other elements include a $12.5 million mortgage revenue bond issue from Hamilton County and support private local lending institutions for below-market, permanent financing for mortgages.

Leigh Ferguson, CNE president, points out that the program's financing structure allows funds to be leveraged to practically quadruple the dollar value of the original investment.

Ferguson said the program offerings are diverse, appealing to clients with incomes ranging primarily from $27,840 for households of three or more to $24,240 for households of one or two persons, or less. These incomes represent 80 percent of the area's median income levels.

Program clients include first-time homebuyers, senior citizens, single parents, couples, the disabled and the homeless. Among the options available are existing homes in established neighborhoods; newly constructed homes built in the inner city and rental units.

The mechanism involves low-interest loans for both rehabilitation and purchase assistance; rental housing; special needs housing for the homeless or mentally ill; and the Homebuyers Club, an educational program that prepares people to become homeowners.

Client profiles range from a single mother and her teenage son who were able to purchase a new home due to a low-interest loan to a man who called CNE when his kitchen floor collapsed beneat him.

Ferguson said a logical outgrowth of CNE has been neighborhood and community revitalization. "It's also our goal to help neighborhood residents and associations; provide volunteer opportunities to encourage house painting and fix-up by local residents; and to organize demonstration projects that increase affordable housing units by working with public and private entities. What's more, CNE's demand for new construction and renovation is appealing to small contractors in the area. "We didn't intend for this to happen, but we're pleased to say that we're putting small businesses, many of them minority businesses, to work," he said.

Looking back, how does the mayor grade CNE? "The program is a signal of hope to a lot of people. It's had a marvelous impact on hundreds of families in Chattanooga and in a sense, I believe the entire community has rallied around the importance of dealing with substandard housing and affordable housing issues," he said.

The Chattanooga program has been recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors with the Partnership for Affordable Housing national award in 1989 and is the recipient of the Golden Hammer Award by the Tennessee Housing Conference for Housing improvements in an inner city neighborhood.

Other cities across the United States, such as Lynchburg, Virgnia, and Cobb and Gwinett counties in Georgia, are looking at CNE as a model program. "People want to know how we're doing it and we're more than eager to tell them." he noted.

"CNE has given people a chance to know each other along economic and racial lines." Mayor Roberts said. "Sure, we're pleased, but we still have a long way to go. There's plenty of work to do. We'll never get it done in a lifetime."

Sally Hekkers is with the Chattanooga News Bureau.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:City Ideas That Work; Mayor Gene Roberts; Chattanooga, Tennessee
Author:Hekkers, Sally
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 19, 1992
Previous Article:Commission plan to balance budget would imperil municipal finance.
Next Article:Education Secretary invites cities to join America 2000.

Related Articles
KRYSTAL CELEBRATES 60TH ANNIVERSARY Company to Donate Clock to City of Chattanooga, Tenn.
KRYSTAL CELEBRATES 60TH ANNIVERSARY Company to Donate Clock to City of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Chattanooga success story: participate, give, have fun.
Chattanooga's enterprising model for affordable housing action.
The foundation that lifts a city.
Achieving sustainability.
Mayor Bob Corker's Focus on Access to Capital Leads to New Business Creation; Chattanooga Start-Up ProNvest Receives One of Largest TAP Loans Ever...
Chattanooga to Extend Electric Bus Service Line.
Chattanooga, Tenn., hosts International Summit.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters