NAACP report shows disparities between Chattanooga neighborhoods - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

NAACP report shows disparities between Chattanooga neighborhoods

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Kenneth Walker has lived in the same home since 1988.    

The small frame house is located in Cedar Hill neighborhood. The neighborhood is at the foot of Missionary Ridge and  borders the Georgia state line. It often gets confused as East Lake by outsiders and routinely gets overlooked by City Hall, according to residents.

Decades ago, the streets were anchored by homeowners who kept tidy and neat lawns.

Now blighted structures dot the landscape. Outsiders speed through General Thomas Boulevard and 17th Avenue to avoid the traffic lights on Rossville Boulevard.

Census data shows homeowners make up less than half the population.

“I’ve mostly got renters -- landlords that live out of town,” said Walker, who is serving as the neighborhood association president. “That’s what I’m dealing with.”

Cedar Hill is just one of about a dozen communities highlighted in a new 23-page report commissioned by the local chapter of the NAACP.

The hope is the report will serve as a call for action. Community members can come together to determine their greatest needs.

“When we look at it, we know these people are living in a toxic environment which they have become accustomed to. It’s not good,” said Dr. Elenora Woods, president of the local NAACP chapter.    

The report shows sharp disparities between mostly white and black communities throughout Chattanooga.

“Tensions are high. People are angry. Why are they angry? It’s like a kid … if you have two children and treat one better than the other,” Woods said.

The findings show some areas are worse off now than they were years ago.     

That’s true for both black and white residents -- but statistics show a greater divide for black Chattanoogans.

“Chattanooga has had tremendous success growing and re-defining itself and transitioning to a digital economy or knowledge economy,” said Kenneth Chilton, a professor at Tennessee State University, and author of the report. “But for a large percentage of the population, it’s not working.”

Chilton, who is the former president of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, argues policies and funds funneled into parts of Chattanooga have ensured success. This is seen downtown, on the Southside and in North Chattanooga.

“Alton Park, Westside and parts of East Chattanooga are surviving. This is not by chance,” said Chilton, who volunteered his time to complete the report. “So, it’s a different city with a different set of norms that are shaped by policies made in the past.”

The policies date back to the 1930s. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation issued a map in 1939 that showed which areas were considered the most risky for investment. Such a map would be considered illegal today after the Community Reinvestment Act passed in the 1970s.

After the map was made, residents who lived in those areas had challenges getting loans.

They were considered risky investments due to racial characteristics and blight. As a result, capital was stifled, which led to higher interest rates for those who did qualify for a loan, Chilton said.

Hill City in North Chattanooga, Westside, Alton Park, Clifton Hills and East Chattanooga were clearly red-lined. Cedar Hill, was split between red-lined areas as well as a “third grade” rating, which was also considered high risk.

Today, most areas remain with many residents living in poverty.

Walker’s home, and others in the neighborhood, were built around the turn of the last century.

In some neighborhoods, grants are made available for homes to be restored.  

“Homeowners aren’t able to receive loans in [this] area,” said Walker, who lives a couple blocks away from Rossville Boulevard.

While the city has focused revitalization efforts on areas like Hill City, Walker is resigned that probably won’t happen to Cedar Hill.

Forty-three percent of black households in Cedar Hill bring in less than $25,000 per year. More than 71 percent of residents pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent each month.

“I don’t know exactly what we need,” he said. “I really don’t see the city doing anything.”

The neighborhood has changed over the years. 

Decades ago, Cedar Hill Elementary School was the heart of the community. The school was later closed. Parts of the foundation and a railing are all that remain on the grassy hill.

Dating back to the 1930s, as many as four upscale dress shops lined a section of Rossville Boulevard with residents calling it “fashion row,” according to residents.

Beginning in the 1980s, the area saw a decline like much of the city. While some areas have experienced a re-birth, many neighborhoods like Cedar Hill have continued to decline. The last decade has been the most defeating, residents said.

During a neighborhood association meeting this summer, five residents showed up. Two decades ago, the room of the neighborhood’s former voting precinct would be packed. Faded photos of the shuttered school adorn the wall in simple frames. A small portrait of former City Councilwoman Marti Rutherford hangs on the wall.

The front window is busted out. The air inside is laden with humidity. The air conditioning is purposely turned off to save on expenses. Instead, two ceiling fans circulate air with a vintage chandelier shining in the center and signaling prosperity decades ago.

Most of handful of residents are retired. They can re-trace the streets and give an oral history of their Chattanooga.

It’s a losing battle they say they fight as the neighborhood falls into ruins against their will.

“It’s like banging your head against the wall at City Hall because you don’t have any political clout,”  one resident said, asking that her name not be used. Her family has lived in the neighborhood for three generations.

The things that residents ask for -- better garbage pickup when renters move out-- often fall on deaf ears at a City Hall that already has a myriad of voices clamoring for help.

Elderly ladies call police to voice complaints about noise and speeding.

“We’re a wart on an elephant to them,” the woman said.

Original homeowners are slowly dying off one by one. Their children sell the property.

Out-of-town investors swoop in to purchase the homes and rent out the property.

One real estate listing doesn’t attempt to attract families to purchase the property.

The listing reads, “Investors Dream!! 3 bed 1 bath home on huge corner lot producing $775 a month on the Section 8 program. Section 8 housing pays complete amount of rent so no worries on your monthly rental income.”

The neighborhood at one time was mostly white and has seen an increase in minorities.

The Hispanic population has increased by 567 percent, according to the latest Census data.

“We really can’t connect with them. It seems like they don’t want to participate,” Walker said. “We have approached them. They have been invited.”

Stray cats and dogs run loose. Plywood boards up windows and doors of some dilapidated homes. Tall grass and weeds as high have overtaken some yards.

“Where they need to be is in a position where they can compete with other neighborhoods. When you think about Cedar Hill or Alton Park communities and you drive through those communities and you’re looking for a home, there are certain things that pop in your mind.”

Crime rates, code enforcement, access to parks are among the things people look at in neighborhoods, Woods said.

“Those are the types of things that make neighborhoods competitive. When you look at African American neighborhoods in Chattanooga, we’re not competitive,” she said.

Both Woods and Chilton hope community members will use the report to determine what they need and develop a blueprint for success.

“Residents are typically not included in these discussions. Policies happen to these communities and they don’t have a lot of say in terms of what those policies are, what they look like and how they play out in those neighborhoods,” he said.
The report will at least help community members determine what their biggest issues are to develop policies.

“I think instead of experts like me telling the community what to do, I think it’s time for the community itself to define what are the big issues,” Chilton said. “There’s a lot of wisdom in the those communities, and I don’t think Chattanooga has done a tremendous job of eliciting that wisdom and being advocates on behalf of those communities and those residents.”

Woods is working to raise funds to help organize efforts in neighborhoods. She hopes to use the money in part to host a series of workshops based on what neighborhoods want.

The mayor’s office did not respond to an email last week seeking comment on whether it supported the efforts of the NAACP.

City Councilman Chris Anderson, who represents neighborhoods spanning from downtown to Cedar Hill, said he has worked to make improvements in the area. He personally paid for Cedar Hill community center’s stormwater fees out of pocket in recent years.

“Cedar Hill and nearby East Lake are two areas that regrettably had been neglected for many decades. I’m proud that this council and administration have begun to address crucial neighborhood issues,” he said in part of an emailed statement. “We still have a long way to go, but I plan to continue moving this area in the right direction and shifting many of the city’s resources there.”

Woods is hosting a community event at 11 a.m. Tuesday Sept. 15 at 2600 Fourth Avenue in East Lake.

“Making that connection with neighborhoods -- that’s the one element that has been missing for a very long time in the community that really counted,” Woods said.

To contact the  NAACP, call 423-267-5637 or email naacpchattanooga@epbfi.com or visit the website at chattanooganaacp.org.

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