Chattanooga group fears One Westside plan will spur displacement of African Americans

Eric Atkins, co-chair of the Unity Group of Chattanooga, on left. Right, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly is shown during a May 26, 2023 news conference, where he unveiled the One Westside plan.

A Chattanooga nonprofit organization is concerned that the One Westside development project will displace African Americans from the neighborhood.

The Unity Group says that the project, which includes 1,500 new residential units, will not do enough to protect low-income residents. The group is calling for more affordable housing to be included in the project.

“Everybody advocating for this Westside plan needs to tell the truth,” Eric Atkins, co-chair of the Unity Group, said. “Most of the people will never go back. They might give you a voucher, but good luck finding adequate housing. All this development is gentrification, pure and simple.”

The One Westside plan encompasses two projects occurring across more than 200 acres of property near the Tennessee River. The name echoes Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly’s “One Chattanooga” plan, an evolving strategy aimed at closing socioeconomic gaps across the city.

Developers have said that 10% of the housing would be reserved for people making at or below 80% of the area’s median income. However, the Unity Group says that this is not enough, and that more affordable housing is needed to prevent displacement.

“At a minimum, Chattanooga leaders and One Westside supporters need to be honest,” the organization said in a report released last week. “African Americans will be displaced. The pattern is clear and indisputable. Safeguards have not been in place to give African Americans opportunities to remain in and around downtown Chattanooga. The market forces unleashed by hyper-gentrification radically change local culture, housing prices and community networks.”

The report goes on to state, “Whether by design or market forces, redevelopment in the urban core and surrounding neighborhoods has not boded well for African American residents. Thousands of them have been displaced by the destruction of public housing, market rents and higher earning workers in the innovative economy.

“The proposed One Westside Plan, like most Chattanooga plans, sounds great. It will provide affordable housing, parks, and it promises to allow all existing residents to remain in Westside. Yet, in most urban neighborhoods in and around downtown Chattanooga, the African American population has continuously declined between 2000 and 2021.

“The data demonstrates that when major development projects are undertaken in Chattanooga, the African American community is disproportionately displaced. In 2000, most census tracts surrounding downtown were majority African American. The pattern was similar in 2010 with a few tracts switching to majority and a few switching to non-majority African American.

“The biggest changes happened between 2010 and 2021 as Chattanooga continued to grow and attract artists, tech workers, and other creatives. The map shows that Northeast Chattanooga and Avon Park remain African American majority communities. Most of downtown and the southeast corridor of the analysis geography are no longer African American majority. The last remaining high concentration of African Americans downtown is Westside.”

The Unity Group was founded in 1969 to promote civil rights and economic opportunity for African Americans in Chattanooga. The organization has been involved in a number of landmark initiatives, including the election of the first black to the Chattanooga City Commission and the renaming of 9th Street to M.L. King Boulevard. The Unity Group is still active today and continues to work to improve the lives of African Americans in Chattanooga.