Activist group Chattanooga Organized for Action released the Jan. 12 report, titled, “Negro Removal in Chattanooga.”
The report is available here. Dr. Ken Chilton, an associate professor in the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs at Tennessee State University, is the author. (Chilton has been involved in the Williamson Strong group.)
COA’s website says it is a “community organizing non-profit that works to initiate, support, and connect popular grassroots organizations for the purposes of advancing the local social justice movement. We’re a multi-issue organization, and we seek to eliminate the oppressive conditions that cause suffering so many of our city’s poor and marginalized people.”
According to the report, Chattanooga’s gentrification has not been an accident, blaming the city’s downtown renovations, yet not blaming any one person or group.
Michael Gilliland, COA’s board chair, wrote, “Our development model has been structured on inequality. Housing, amenities, and public support have centered on attracting a higher socioeconomic class of people-wealthy, professional, overwhelmingly white-regardless of the effect on working class and historically marginalized communities that have called Chattanooga home.”
The report says the much-lauded public-private partnership that revitalized the downtown failed to benefit blacks. Between 2000 to 2017, the market-based renewal resulted in the loss of 2,592 blacks in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, the report says, while gaining 5,066 white residents.
African American households earned roughly 62% of a white, non-Hispanic household in 2000. By 2010, African American households earned about 54% of a white, non-Hispanic household. The ratio remains in 2017 despite reports of “higher wages” in Chattanooga.
The report provides statements from Democratic Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, saying, “There are too many people who feel like they’re stuck,” meaning they do not have college degrees, own land or have investments.
Berke told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he has focused on job creation to boost incomes.
Berke said his administration has focused relentlessly on recruiting employers that pay high wages and supporting locally owned businesses that have potential to grow. Programs like the Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund and the Affordable Housing Fund were created to help stabilize communities and “lay stronger economic foundation for everyone,” he said.
Also, the COA report calls for a dialogue that includes low-income people of color and negotiations with developers who use Opportunity Zone tax breaks.
The group suggests creating Community Benefit Agreements (CBA). The Partnership for Working Families says these a contracts between developers and community groups that require specific amenities or “mitigations.” They ensure that projects create opportunities for local workers and communities:
In some cases, the community benefits terms from a CBA may be incorporated into an agreement between the local government and the developer, such as a development agreement or lease. That arrangement gives the local government the power to enforce the community benefits terms.
CBAs allow a win-win approach to development: meaningful, up-front communication between the developer and a broad community coalition decreases developers’ risk while maximizing the positive impact of development on local residents and economies. The developer benefits from active community support of the project, and community members gain when the project responds to their needs.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.