Local officials working with the homeless said they "have not been as successful as they hoped" in finding housing for the homeless despite receiving $6 million in COVID funds.
The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition (CRHC) received the funds to support rapid re-housing and shelter for those experiencing homelessness in Chattanooga and the 10 surrounding rural counties of Southeast Tennessee.
Officials said, "Although COVID response funding provided rental assistance, the money cannot be used to build affordable housing and the current supply of available, affordable housing units is nearly non-existent. Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition wants to partner with landlords, property owners, contractors, and builders to find solutions to the affordable housing crisis.
"In partnership with Hamilton County Health Department and Blue Cross Blue Shield, the local homeless response system’s COVID response has been successful in vaccinating the homeless population, with over 700 people vaccinated to date. However, the hope to effectively end homelessness with this unprecedented funding opportunity has not been realized due to the lack of affordable housing."
Executive Director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition Wendy Winters said that affordable housing is the only answer to homelessness. She said, “We get calls all the time from people that have noticed the increase in homelessness in our community. They tell us something needs to be done, but the only solution is more affordable housing units. We have rental assistance dollars to make sure that those experiencing homelessness can maintain their housing once they get it, but we need the units first.”
Justin Wolfe with Nooga Strong Construction owns several properties in Chattanooga and 14 affordable housing units in Knoxville.
He said zoning restrictions and supply prices "are the main two components of why affordable housing is impossible to find. There’s no financial reason to build a single-family unit that’s smaller than 1,600 square feet. Contractor grade housing materials cost roughly $130 per square foot if you’re building a 1,200 square foot home and that doesn’t include the price of the land.”
He said his personal connection to the cause is what drives him to be part of the solution. “I have a family member with a mental health issue who is homeless. There’s no place for her to go. I have lived in affordable housing units growing up and I own units in Knoxville, so I know we can have the best of both worlds. We need a government subsidizing option to make it feasible for contractors to get involved.”
The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition is looking for partners that can provide housing. In return, they can offer landlord incentives in the form of double deposits, sign-on bonuses, and support services.