Emphasizing the need and the benefits of neighborhood revitalization, Kenardo Curry, administrator of Chattanooga’s Neighborhood Services Department, said the city has kicked off a program targeting 15 neighborhoods for intensive work in its Strategic Neighborhood Initiative (SNI).
Speaking to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) of Chattanooga, he said, “Every piece of property either contributes to the decline or the growth of a community.” When people invest in property, he added, it is essential that they maintain it.
The department, he said, works with some 150 neighborhoods throughout the city. The 15 chosen for the SNI program are Alton Park, Avondale, Cedar Hill, Clifton Hills, East Chattanooga, Eastdale, Eastlake, Glenwood, Hill City, Howard, Oak Grove, Orchard Knob, Piney Woods, Ridgedale and Shepherd.
These neighborhoods were selected based on the number of deteriorating houses, the absence of vibrant businesses, the density of crime activity and a high concentration of renters versus homeowners.
Work in these 15 SNI neighborhoods will be closely coordinated with the work of the Community Impact Fund in Bushtown, Highland Park, Martin Luther King neighborhood, Southside Historic District and Westside.
Pointing out that “abandoned houses and lots create a magnet for crime,” he said in deteriorating communities there are two police officers assigned for every one officer in the suburbs.
“You are aware of the sprawl going on in East Brainerd,” he said, with roads having been built “to get folks out of Chattanooga … to the tune of millions of dollars.” Meanwhile, he continued, the inner city was becoming dilapidated with only pockets being revitalized and redeveloped. There was no focus on the central city where tourists come and a program was needed to revitalize the inner city.
He said Mayor Bob Corker realized the need to continue efforts to revitalize neighborhoods and has endorsed and supported a multi-faceted program including cleaning up the streets, making neighborhood safer, improving the city’s nine “on notice” elementary schools and promoting economic growth and capital investment.
Mr. Curry said the goal of his department is to develop communities and turn around the previous trends so the city can have “a more equitable distribution of tax dollars.”
With a goal of reducing crime, creating attractive and livable housing stock and stimulating economic development, he said, the department seeks to “help mobilize residents to do for themselves.”
He continued, “My job is to make sure people have some choices” about were they live and that they have “a decent place to work and play and live.” He said it’s not acceptable to have just an affordable place to live,” it must also be attractive and comfortable.
Looking at a street, he said, all the homes must “work together to create a place of choice.”
The city’s program, said Mr. Curry, can provide up to a $10,000 grant for a neighborhood to upgrade it if it is shown that the residents want to do something to improve their neighborhood.
The city is working with Habitat for Humanity, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) and other organizations in developing neighborhoods.
The city also will pay $50 for junk cars to get them off the streets and $50 to people who will testify against those engaged in illegal dumping.
Grants can help rebuild community organizations and spur neighborhood festivals or build gateway welcome signs that tell others, “We don’t want you to junk our neighborhood.”
Visitors and potential new residents and business operators come into the city and “if we don’t shape up the central city, we are failing and are missing the mark,” Mr. Curry said.
The city, he said, must have strong neighborhoods and people want to feel confident about a low crime rate and good services.
Distributing copies of “Breaking Ground,” a special edition of the quarterly Common Ground publication of the department, he noted that the publication outlines the city’s program revitalizing the inner city neighborhoods and the downtown business and residential area. SNI will work with four neighborhoods at a time until all 15 have been served.
Mr. Curry said neighborhood revitalization continues across the city as individuals and neighborhood associations grapple with education, economic development, quality of service and public safety. Every one of these areas influences every other one and all of them affect neighborhoods.
He said his department looks at these issues and is challenged to find ways to better serve citizens and better deploy resources to create out-of-the-box solutions.