Tennessee Human Right Commission Has Hearing At UTC Feb. 24

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Tennessee Human Right Commission, continuing its statewide series of hearings, will stop in Chattanooga on Monday, Feb. 24. Chattanooga Organized for Action has been invited to speak on civil rights issues currently facing Chattanooga. The hearing seeks input and testimony from community leaders, advocacy groups, and researchers concerning the state of human rights in the community. 

COA will address what the organization has identified as a three-part crisis in Chattanooga: a crisis of housing, economy, and democracy. COA’s testimony will focus on Chattanooga’s multiple crises of lack of affordable housing for low-income people, poverty and economic inequity, and lack of truly meaningful civic participation in local government. COA’s testimony will also show how minority groups are disproportionately affected by these multiple crises.

Testimony on the crisis of affordable housing for low-income people will take the lead, as half of Chattanooga’s households are burdened with housing costs. One out of every four renters pays more than half of their income to rent. The affordable housing that does exist is on decline: half of Chattanooga’s public housing stock has been demolished, with the two largest public housing communities targeted for demolition. Thousands sit on waiting lists for public and subsidized housing while the city’s land use policies exacerbate the problem by favoring single family homes and luxury apartments.  

Testimony on economic inequity will follow. In Chattanooga, 45 percent of all households qualify as low-income; 23 percent live below the federal poverty line. Communities of color are disproportionately affected; nearly half of African American males in the urban core are unemployed. Black households make an average of $26,787 per year; whites $51,548. Sixty-percent of African American children live in poverty, compared to 16.5 percent of white children. These inequities are caused, in part, by prioritization of corporate welfare agreements that redistribute wealth from poorer communities to international corporations. Out of $32 million dollars spent in city/county money towards preparing industrial sites for the VW project, less than one-tenth of one percent went to women or minority-owned firms. These problems are exacerbated due to the outsourcing of city economic development and recruitment policies of the Chamber of Commerce, an agency that actively promotes Chattanooga’s workforce as highly exploitable.

In addition to unemployment and economic inequity, gentrification is also a challenge in Chattanooga. In the past decade, Chattanooga has made claim to two of the top 15 most racially gentrified zip codes in the nation. Poor people of color have been displaced in favor of an influx for more affluent white residents through public and philanthropic policies that rewarded targeted developments to increase property values at the expense of equity towards indigenous populations.

In addition to offering testimony on the crises of affordable housing and economy, COA’s testimony will focus on how attempts at community self-governance have been repeatedly thwarted by local government entities, including the current and previous Chattanooga mayoral administrations. Cited examples will include the attempted destruction of the Westside by Mayor Littlefield’s attempted Purpose Built Communities project to the repeated failure of the Berke Administration and the Chattanooga Housing Authority to meaningfully include elected Neighborhood Association in its plans for the former Harriet Tubman site, officials said. COA will draw a link between the thwarted attempts at community self-determination and the current socioeconomic crises faced by these communities. 

COA’s statement will draw from a collection of research into these cited issues, along with an analysis of how city government policy decisions over the course of the past three decades have exacerbated socioeconomic inequities, especially as it relates to Chattanooga’s minority community. The data from COA will include both quantitative and qualitative information. Quantitative data will draw from: US Census and American Community Survey data sets, research detailing housing, economy, and lack of civic participation, and unemployment figures and disparities across race and ethnicity and housing displacement figures as they relate to racial gentrification. Qualitative information will include testimony from Chattanooga’s marginalized communities, which provide invaluable personal witness to lived socioeconomic hardships in housing, economic inequity, and the thwarted attempts by those communities to meaningfully engage in the process of self-governance due to a lack of participation with local governmental institutions.  

The Tennessee Human Rights Commission hearing will take place Monday, Feb. 24, on UTC’s campus in the University Center’s Chattanooga Room. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend and hear testimony on issues facing Chattanooga.

The Commission’s hearing will culminate in the production of a final report, “The State of Human Rights in Tennessee.” The final report will include, along with testimony, statistics, trends, and information from the Commission’s work.  

To learn more or RSVP to the Chattanooga Hearing, visit www.chattanoogahearing.eventbrite.com. COA is looking for more testimony from individuals to include in the organization’s final policy documents.  To share a story with the organization, please email info@chattaction.org

For questions regarding the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, please contact Susannah Berry at 800.251-3589 or at susannah.berry@tn.gov.

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