Citizens Rate Chattanooga As High On Quality Of Life, But Facing Issues With Street Conditions, Nighttime Safety, Homelessness and Housing Affordability

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Chattanoogans give high ratings to quality of life issues, but have concerns about street conditions, housing affordability, the handling of the homelessness issue, being safe at night and dealing with traffic.

That was the result from the 10th annual Community Survey by the office of Internal City Auditor Stan Sewell.

The survey was mailed out to random homes throughout the city, it was stated.

Officials said:

Chattanoogans believe the City is a good place to live, work, raise a family and retire. A review of the data reveals the highest areas of concern relate to street conditions, housing affordability, public safety at night and traffic related issues. We noted only 10% of respondents gave positive ratings for the City’s handling of homelessness. The 2021 survey, like previous surveys, often showed significant differences in opinions based on the Council district surveyed. We have included an addendum with summaries from a general analysis by CoThis report presents the results of our 10th annual Community Survey. We asked Chattanoogans about their views on a variety of city services, and over 2,400 residents responded from May to August. In addition to reporting on citywide data, we report survey data specific to each of Chattanooga’s nine City Council districts.

Chattanoogans continue to give high ratings to their city and neighborhoods on key quality of life indicators in 2021. Chattanoogans believe the City is a good place to live, work, raise a family and retire. A review of the data reveals the highest areas of concern relate to street conditions, housing affordability, public safety at night and traffic related issues. We noted only 10% of respondents gave positive ratings for the City’s handling of homelessness. The 2021 survey, like previous surveys, often showed significant differences in opinions based on the Council district surveyed. We have included an addendum with summaries from a general analysis by Council district. This addendum contains brief comments that may be of interest at a district level.

We mailed the survey to 10,000 randomly-selected households. Eighteen percent of households receiving the survey responded. We mailed an additional 10,000 postcards with a link allowing residents to complete the survey online. As a result, an additional 629 surveys were completed. These additional online responses have a material impact on the overall ratings. To ensure an accurate comparison to prior years, our primary analysis is based upon the traditional paper surveys only. The online results are provided in an addendum to this report. We provide a detailed discussion of processes and procedures used for data collection in the methodology section of our report. We calculated the citywide survey accuracy to be within ± 2.28 percent.

In comparing the demographic information provided by survey respondents to 2020 Census data. We found our survey respondents are older and more educated than the population as a whole. We also found females are over-represented and minorities are under-represented among those who returned our survey. These demographic differences have been relatively consistent over the years we have been conducting the community survey. 

This report provides the public and policy makers valuable information regarding resident satisfaction with city services. We encourage the Mayor, City Council Members, City Department Heads, Regional Planning Agency Managers, and community leaders to study trends and differences in community perceptions as they consider strategies to improve services across the nine city council districts. As mentioned in our report, it is important for readers to recognize many insights may be gained by analyzing the data independently. Raw results and summarized tables are provided in excel format on the City’s website at chattanooga.gov/internal-audit/community-surveys.

We want to thank the 1,799 Chattanoogans who took the time to complete the mailed survey, as well as the 629 who completed the survey online. In addition, we want to thank the Electric Power Board and the City’s mailroom staff for their assistance with this effort.

Chattanoogans have opinions about City of Chattanooga services from public safety to community development, parks, water, and streets. City managers and elected officials may take advantage of opinions expressed in this survey, as well as changes in these opinions over time, to find areas for improvement, identify programs with high public satisfaction, assess community needs, and assist in the decision process about current and future services.

The Office of Internal Audit (OIA) conducted a survey of Chattanooga residents to gather their views of city services. This report provides an overview of perspectives expressed by over 1,799 residents who responded by mail. An additional 629 citizens completed the survey online. The online survey respondent demographics differ substantially from our traditional paper survey respondents. To provide relevant trend analysis, we did not include the online responses in our primary analysis. We provide a separate analysis of the online responses as an addendum to this report. In future years, we plan to use the combined data as a base for reporting trends.

This report should interest the public, City Council, city managers and community leaders. We also expect residents to use it to track progress in many important areas. 

Chattanoogans continue to give high ratings to their city and neighborhoods overall; lower ratings of value received from city government for taxes paid; and mixed reviews for the various city services. Although opinions in many areas remained consistent with prior years, we noted the following key areas for 2021. • Forty percent of residents rate the value received for city taxes paid as very good or good. This is a 6 percentage point decrease from 2020 and, along with 2012, the lowest recorded since the survey began in 2012; • Forty-four percent of residents rated the overall direction the City is taking as good or very good. This represents a 7 percentage point decrease from 2020 and the lowest recorded since the survey began; • Resident’s opinions on traffic flow (congestion) continue to be low. Twenty-eight percent rated traffic flow during peak hours positively, an 11 percentage point decrease since 2012 (39%); • Residents were less positive about the smoothness of streets: only 19 percent indicate smoothness was good or very good, a 3 percentage point decrease from 2020 and 15 percentage point decrease from 2012. The condition of streets has been one of the most negatively rated areas since our survey began in 2012. 

We included a question regarding homelessness for 2021. Citizens were given the opportunity to provide an opinion on the city’s handling of the homeless problem in Chattanooga. Forty-eight percent of respondents rated the City’s handling of homelessness as bad or very bad. Only 10 percent rated the City’s handling of homelessness as good or very good.

This report contains highlights of survey results for the following city service areas: public safety, public works, transportation, parks, recreation, and community development.1 In addition, we include a section explaining how we conducted the community survey and prepared the report. Survey data (including areas not highlighted within the report) is provided beginning on page 14.

Our analysis, and this report, represent only a portion of the insights the survey data reveals. We have made the data tables available to the public on the City of Chattanooga website (select “Internal Audit” from the Department drop box or in the address bar of your web browser, enter www.chattanooga.gov/internalaudit). We encourage City and community leaders to download the tables for analysis using various filters. 

Overall satisfaction with police, fire, emergency medical services, and 9-1-1 remain positive in 2021. While most residents feel safe in their neighborhoods and parks during the day, residents report feeling less safe downtown, particularly at night. Feelings of safety during the day in the downtown area have decreased 5 percentage points from 2020. This represents the lowest rating since the survey started in 2012. 

A substantial percentage of residents who used fire or emergency medical services feel the overall quality of service, as well as speed of response, was very good or good, Satisfaction remains consistently high for services received from the 911 call takers. Although not as highly rated as Fire and EMS, a majority of residents continue to rate the quality of police services positively.

Citywide, residents do not feel safe in their nearest park or downtown at night. In 2021, 47 percent of residents surveyed indicate they feel unsafe or very unsafe walking alone at night downtown. Residents feel safest in their neighborhood during the day. 

Feelings of safety at night in neighborhoods vary substantially among council districts. The highest positive ratings of perceived nighttime safety are in City Council District 2, at 75 percent. City Council District 9 reports the lowest positive rating at 26 percent. 

Resident satisfaction with Public Works services is positive overall in 2021. The vast majority of residents rate satisfaction with Public Works/Sanitation Services as very satisfied or somewhat satisfied. Ratings in the basic Public Works service areas of garbage, yard waste and curbside recycling have been highly rated in the past. We noted ratings of satisfaction are trending down over the past five years.

Residents continue to be less enthusiastic about transportation related issues. Ratings on smoothness of streets have been poor since we began conducting the survey in 2012. Overall perceptions of traffic flow during off peak hours remain positive while residents are less positive about traffic flow during peak hours. We noted perceptions of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists continue to trend downward with only 31% and 24% of respondents giving ratings of very good or good, respectively.

Overall satisfaction with Public Works services is positive. However, satisfaction with water quality, storm drainage and sewer services do not rate as well as the traditional sanitation services. We noted positive ratings decreased in all Public Works services when compared to 2020. Eighty-nine percent of residents who responded with an opinion are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with garbage pick-up, Seventy-three percent are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with yard waste pick-up. This is a 5- percentage point decrease from 2020. Seventy-eight percent are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with curbside recycling.

Since 2012, positive ratings on peak hour traffic flow had trended downward from 39% to the lowest rating in 2019 of 25%. It appears the decrease in traffic due to shutdowns related to Covid-19 created a slight improvement in 2020 (31%); however, since businesses have begun to re-open, the rating fell 3 percentage points in 2021. As illustrated in the following exhibit, District 4 has the lowest (23%) positive perception of peak hour traffic flow while District 2 indicates the highest positive perception at 35%. In 2021, the majority of respondents (64%) continue to rate traffic flows during non-peak hours as very good or good.  

In 2021, street conditions continue to have the least positive ratings with 19 percent rating smoothness of streets very good or good. This is a 3 percentage point decrease from 2020, but a 15 percentage point decrease compared to 2012, when positive ratings were 34%. Thirty-five percent rate cleanliness of city streets as very good or good. This is a 8 percentage point decrease in positive perceptions from 2020 and a 16 percentage point decrease since 2012 (51%). 

In 2021, residents continue to rate City parks and recreation programs positively. Thirty-two percent visited their neighborhood park at least monthly. The overwhelming majority of residents indicate they did not participate in city recreation programs within the past 12 months. However, those who did participate rate the programs highly.

Twenty-two percent of residents report visiting a City park on a daily or weekly basis. Seventy-three percent visit a City park at least a few times per year. Utilization of neighborhood parks varies significantly among the nine council districts. The highest rate of regular park visits is 37 percent by residents in District 7; the lowest is 16 percent by residents in District 9. 

Residents who registered an opinion rate the quality of park landscaping, facilities and playgrounds near their homes favorably. Positive perceptions of these key quality factors decreased slightly in comparison to 2020. 

Participants in recreation activities expressed decreased positive opinions for 2021. Of those who participated and expressed an opinion, 70 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with affordability, 59 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of instruction and 59 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with program variety.

Eleven percent of residents report that someone in their household participated in a recreation program within the past 12 months. This is a 3 percentage point decrease from 2020 and the lowest rate of utilization since we began our survey.3 Due to the low utilization, many indicate they have no knowledge about the affordability, variety or quality of the City’s recreation programs. The highest rate of participation is in District 5 at 14 percent. The lowest rate of participation is in District 6 at eight percent. 

Overall satisfaction with community development remains positive in 2021. Residents rate their city and neighborhood highly on livability. Business owners continue to indicate Chattanooga is a good place to do business. The majority of respondents report favorably on new commercial and residential developments in their neighborhoods.

Citywide, 90 percent of residents feel positively about their city as a place to live. With regard to ratings related to neighborhood livability, residents remain positive about the physical condition of housing, the proximity of parks and access to shopping and services. Residents are not as positive about their ability to walk to public transit (38%), availability of sidewalks (36%) and on-street parking (34%). Resident’s feelings about aspects of neighborhood livability vary by council district:

Sixty-six percent of residents feel positively about the physical condition of housing in their neighborhoods. Ratings of housing condition vary widely by council district, with the highest positive ratings in District 4 and the lowest positive ratings in District 8.

In 2021, 52 percent of resident’s rate housing affordability in their neighborhood positively, a 12 percentage point decrease from 2020 and the lowest rating since we started conducting these surveys. The most positive rating on affordability is in Districts 4 and 6 with 65 percent. The lowest rating on housing affordability is in District 7 with 38 percent reporting positively. 

In 2021, 36 percent of residents reported new commercial developments in their neighborhoods. Seventy percent feel positively about the attractiveness of the development. Fifty-three percent of residents indicate the additions are an improvement to their neighborhood as a place to live. Forty-three percent of residents reported new residential developments in their neighborhood. Sixty-nine percent rate the attractiveness of the development favorably and 51 percent feel the development is an improvement to their neighborhood.

Sixty-nine percent of residents were neither involved in a community project nor attended a public meeting in the last 12 months. This represents a 7 percentage point decrease in citizen involvement when compared to 2020, likely a result of closures due to COVID. Thirty-seven percent rate the City’s efforts at welcoming citizen involvement as positive, a decrease of 5 percentage points from 2020.

OIA conducted its Community Survey for the tenth year in 2021. The Office received responses May through August. Questions on the survey request residents’ views of satisfaction with services the City of Chattanooga provides. These results inform the public and help city leaders to better manage city services and resources. The survey was mailed to 10,000 randomly-selected addresses in the city limits. It included a letter from the City Auditor explaining the purpose of the survey and how to complete it. For 2021, we mailed an additional 10,000 postcards to randomly selected homes providing the opportunity to complete the survey online. Survey responses are anonymous.

For the second year, we supplemented our standard survey mailing with 10,000 post cards, offering a random sample of residents the opportunity to complete the survey online. 629 of these selected residents completed the online survey, resulting in a 6% response rate. The results were analyzed separately from those obtained via the standard survey mailer.In May 2021, we mailed 10,000 introductory postcards, an equal number to households representing each of the City’s nine Council Districts. The following week we mailed the surveys. A week after the surveys were sent, we mailed a reminder postcard. Of the 10,000 mailed surveys, we received 1,799 completed surveys, resulting in a citywide response rate of 18 percent.

We received 1,799 responses to our mailed survey document and 629 responses to our online only postcard effort. Because we have not historically solicited these online only responses, we wanted to ensure their inclusion in the results did not skew comparisons to prior years. Therefore, we compared the results for each question with and without the additional 629 responses. A comparison between the two sets of data showed the results for many of the questions were impacted by greater than one-half of one percentage point. Therefore, we concluded there could be a material impact on comparisons to prior years and did not include the results in our primary analysis for this annual report.

The citywide survey margin of error, at the conventional 95 percent confidence level, is ±2.28 percent based on the 1,799 completed surveys received by mail. Within each of the nine City Council Districts, the margin of error ranges from ±5.97 to ±8.05 percent. The confidence level is a measure of the certainty that the responses would be the same (within the margin of error) if another random sample was taken. Representativeness of Respondents We compared demographic information supplied by respondents to 2020 Census data in order to assess how closely our sample matched official census demographics. On a citywide level, our survey respondents are older and more educated than the population as a whole. We found that females are over-represented and minorities are under-represented among our respondents. These differences are very similar to previous years.

In conducting this survey, we reviewed data by the city service areas of public safety, public works, parks, recreation, and community development. Trend analysis is focused on the current opinions compared to those in prior years. We reviewed positive (very good and good responses combined), neutral, and negative (bad and very bad responses combined), but largely focused our analysis on positive ratings, except where analysis of negative ratings was clearly warranted. In the table of survey results, the number of total respondents to each question appears below the percentages. Due to rounding, percentages may not add to 100, and city council district totals may not add to the city total. Figures reported in the text of our report may differ from the table due to rounding and the exclusion of “Don’t Know” responses for certain questions.

To help keep respondent identities anonymous and maintain long-term consistency, OIA designed the survey without a specific section for written comments. Regardless, respondents wrote 269 comments on the survey form (or attached a note). Comments are related to all areas covered by the survey. These detailed comments are being provided to City Council members and City Administration for review.

We encourage residents with comments, concerns, or complaints to contact City of Chattanooga departments through 3-1-1. Also, city department contact information can be found on the City of Chattanooga website: www.chattanooga.gov. Alternatively, citizens are welcome to attend and provide comments during City Council meetings on Tuesday evenings.

The report, along with the raw and summarized data in Excel format, is available via the City's website at https://chattanooga.gov/internal-audit/community-surveys

 

 

 


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