By Camm Ashford
Hamilton County Commissioners last week approved $2 million in American Rescue Plan funds for Westside Evolves, a collaborative neighborhood planning initiative led by the Chattanooga Housing Authority (CHA).
The plan–whose investments may eventually total nearly a billion dollars–is expected to take from eight to 10 years and will revitalize 130 acres in downtown Chattanooga. The ARP funds will go toward phase one, which will be used to renovate the CHA-owned historic James A. Henry School, 1200 Grove St. The renovation will provide 100 Head Start seats to 3-5 year-olds living in the area along with classrooms for training, a health clinic and other social, recreational and educational opportunities.
As part of the Westside redevelopment, more than 1,700 units of new housing will be built in the area. Existing subsidized housing will be replaced with new units, but existing housing will only be demolished after the new housing has been constructed. Just like public housing, residents will continue to pay 30% of their adjusted income towards rent at the redeveloped site.
The effort to receive funding from Hamilton County was led by Commissioner Dr. Warren Mackey who said, “One of the primary reasons why this project is so important is that presently real estate costs and rents are very high. Many of the lower income residents aren’t able to achieve the American dream of buying a home. This housing initiative won’t solve the housing crisis, but it will preserve a small slice of Chattanooga for everyday people.”
Commissioner Mackey, whose District 4 encompasses parts of the Westside, noted that no one is going to be displaced from their units until there’s some place for them to go within the community.
“The other reason why I am so pleased to have gotten the county involved is that the people living here will not be displaced,” he said. “The Westside has among the best views of downtown Chattanooga. I had major concerns that gentrification would consume the area. However, as the new housing is completed, the people living there will be given the first right to live there.”
The Westside is Chattanooga’s oldest public housing communities, providing homes to more than 1,500 families. According to public records, the residents earn less than $15,000 annually and the area has a poverty rate of 87 percent.
Chattanooga Housing Authority Executive Director Betsy McCright said in a statement, “The community is fully supporting efforts in one of our oldest public housing communities and we couldn’t be more grateful.”
The CHA plans to begin immediately working on the renovation, which will focus on CHA and city owned properties including College Hill Courts, Gateway Towers, Boynton Terrace, Dogwood Manor, Riverview Tower, Sheila Jennings Park and the Youth and Family Development (YFD) Center.