Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises CEO Martina Guilfoil told members of the Civitan Club on Friday she feels Chattanooga is a place where "people are all inclined to want to do something about the community and make it a better place to live."
CNE, a nonprofit organization, has been working toward that goal since 1986. Ms. Guilfoil said the agency wanted to "provide the opportunity for all Chattanoogans to have decent and affordable housing."
However, she said, "I think there's a difference in a hand up and a handout." She said the organization would work with people on loan modification, but that people had to make their payments. She described their policy as one of "mutual responsibility," saying, "If we aren't good stewards of our resources, we can't help the next person."
She said that while CNE does receive money from the city and the government, "We operate as a business, so we generate income."
She said, "The money that we hold is not my organization's money; it's the community's money and I'm just a steward."
CNE has created well over 3,600 homeowners in the area and counseled over 1,100 through foreclosure prevention. Ms. Guilfoil said this is important because each home that is foreclosed ends up having a negative economic impact of approximately $75,000.
She also said CNE will be helping to create more affordable rentals for working families. She said, while there are lots of single units available, finding a rental for a family could be a challenge. She said, "There's a role for rental in our community that's important."
She said, "Not everyone can afford to buy a house." She said this would be important in the coming years because many millennials would also not be able to buy homes because of student debt.
Ms. Guilfoil told the audience in the near future CNE would be working in the St. Elmo and Alton Park areas to develop neighborhoods. She also said the agency is "looking to do some major work in the Highland Park area." She said, "It's the next neighborhood ready for change."
She emphasized that the work in these areas would not just be about "bricks and mortar," but about "connecting people" as well. She said the group wants to create environments where people will want to stay.