Housing crisis

Carriage houses and in-law suites are seen as contributing to the affordable housing crisis in Chattanooga

Melanie Newton said she and her husband built a secondary suite above their garage in the South Chattanooga neighborhood four years ago, and it has been occupied ever since.

“We literally had someone in there two days before construction was finished,” she said in a phone interview.

Chattanooga has fewer than 100 such units, often called carriage houses or family suites, but a plan to legalize more has officials believing the proposal can boost affordable housing efforts.

“It’s another piece of the puzzle,” Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said in an interview about the move to ease concerns that the city is on the verge of becoming a place where many don’t. cannot afford to live.

The units are now legal primarily in the downtown area, but the mayor’s proposed ordinance would allow them on single-family lots across Chattanooga under certain conditions.

Secondary suites are often found in a detached structure, above garages or above or below a main dwelling. New units under the proposed order must be permanent structures limited to 700 square feet. Only one would be allowed per single-family dwelling.

Also, the dwellings must be in the back or side yard and are limited to two floors without exceeding the height of the principal residence, according to the proposed ordinance.

(READ MORE: $60 million affordable housing complex to be built in South Chattanooga)

In addition, the existing parking lot must be maintained or replaced when the unit is created, and the units must respect the architectural design of the main residence, including the facade, building materials, roof and windows.

Kelly said last week he thought the units were an easy way to increase housing supply in the city.

He said secondary suites “are not very controversial”, although he admitted some could turn into short-term rental properties.

“If people want to do some short-term vacation ownership and get a little extra income, that doesn’t spoil the housing market,” the mayor said. “It does not have a negative impact on the housing market.”

Contributor photo by Melanie Newton / A secondary suite belonging to Chattanooga landlord Melanie Newton sits above a garage at her residence in this April 14, 2022 photo. Newton said the unit has been occupied since her built four years ago

Chris Anderson, senior adviser to the mayor, said in a telephone interview that the proposed ordinance received approval from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission last week.

From now on, the measure will be submitted to the city council and must be approved during two meetings before coming into force 14 days after its adoption or whenever the committee decides, he said.

(READ MORE: The Chattanooga-area housing market is unaffordable for many)

Anderson said there were no number of units the order was trying to create above the nearly 100 that already exist.

“It’s one of the many ways we’re looking to address the affordable housing crisis,” he said.

Anderson said he thinks most new units will go for multi-generational housing, like an aging parent or a child who isn’t ready to buy a home.

Currently, secondary suites are permitted where city form-based code zoning is in effect, which is essentially downtown, he said. Three years ago, when the issue was discussed, some critics cited potential traffic and safety issues, especially on narrow streets in neighborhoods such as North Chattanooga.

Anderson said traffic is always an issue when rezoning is being considered.

“The percentage increase on any given street is so tiny that no one will notice,” he said.

(READ MORE: Median home price in Chattanooga tops $300,000 for the first time)

The proposed ordinance would not supersede homeowners association rules or historical guidelines with respect to secondary suites, according to the city.

In terms of short-term rentals, Anderson said the council voted in March to ban these non-owner-occupied units until at least January, while the matter was under consideration.

“We are facing a once-in-a-generation housing crisis,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to ensure people aren’t left out of Chattanooga.”

Newton said his unit was rented to a former military man in his 40s who didn’t want or need a full-size house. Plus, a career-focused middle-aged woman who also didn’t need a big space rented it, she said.

Newton thinks there are a lot of advantages to offering more structures.

“I see the need at all ages and all economic statuses,” she said, citing people who want to downsize and those who just want a more modest lifestyle.

With housing costs at record highs and wages not keeping up, Kelly last month unveiled plans for a five-year, $100 million affordable housing initiative.

He said the city plans to put $33 million in “start-up” funds in the next budget without raising taxes. Funding for the remaining two-thirds is to be raised in collaboration with nonprofit groups, banks, foundations and other entities.

Kelly expects thousands of affordable housing units to be created and rehabilitated in what the city calls the largest such effort in its history. The first projects will be funded by the end of this year, the mayor said. He said the effort will involve apartments, single-family homes, duplexes and other housing types across the city.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.