Is The Lack Of Affordable Housing In Chattanooga The Primary Driver For Homelessness?

Chattanooga, TN -During the City Council Meeting on November 24th, 2020, the Council received calls from Social Workers expressing concern about the lack of affordable housing in Chattanooga. 

Elizabeth Riley, a social worker from Ooltewah, said “The common denominator with this issue that we are faced with is the monopolization of the rental market in Chattanooga by Property Management companies, LLCs and the demanding requirements that low-income individuals cannot meet.” 

A 2018 Report from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development supports Riley’s statements.

“A central driver of higher home prices in some communities is the heavy regulation of housing markets by localities,” the report says. 

Riley stated that qualifications to rent include no prior evictions, a high credit score, at least one to two years of positive rental history and an income requirement of at least three times the rent.   

“The last qualification would be reasonable if rental pricing was affordable but even in the worst neighborhoods, this is not the case,” Riley said.   

Average rent in Chattanooga for a one-bedroom apartment is $1029 a month.   

According to Riley, the estimated mean renter wage is $14.42 an hour so affordable rent at that wage would be $750 a month. 

“However, $750 cannot even get them into a studio apartment,” said Riley. 

Riley stated that the majority of clients she has worked with have recently been evicted and are living in transitional housing or their cars.  Out of the 12 plus families she is serving, she has only been able to secure stable housing for one. 

“So many families cannot even afford a one-bedroom apartment and it’s not unreasonable that we assume the stable housing that has been a problem in Chattanooga is about to become worse because of COVID-19,” Riley said. 

Riley stated she realizes that two of Mayor Berke’s initiatives with the budget are Safer Streets and  Stronger Neighborhoods,  “but it’s crucial we realize decent, affordable housing is the foundation for these outcomes.” 

District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz requested that Riley call her to discuss the issue further. 

Another social worker from the Chattanooga area, Susan Yates, called in with some additional points that Riley did not have time to make during her 3-minute time slot. 

Yates stated that a majority of the clients they work with are not the typical stigmatized individuals that society tends to think of when talking about people experiencing homelessness. 

“Our demographics show that over 50% of our clients are working full-time jobs and have some college education if not a degree that has already been completed,” Yates said. 

“These individuals that we work with on a daily basis are doing whatever they can to provide a stable living environment for their families,” Yates went on to say, “and that is not possible without a stable place to live and call home.” 

Addressing the Council directly, Yates said, “It is our job as a community to lift each other up. It is our responsibility as social workers and your responsibility to our constituents.” 

District 8 Commissioner Anthony Byrd stated that he and District 9 Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod do everything they can to help with the housing crisis on a professional and personal level and that he would like to set up a committee or public meeting to better educate the public on the limitations the Council has regarding this issue.   

“I want people to understand the level of work that we can do and that we are able to do, especially as a Council,” Byrd said. 

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