Chattanooga City Council approves Airport Inn rezoning

70 permanent supportive housing units will soon replace "dilapidated" hotel

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) — The Chattanooga City Council approved the controversial rezoning of the Airport Inn off of Lee Highway on Tuesday night.

The building is set to be converted into supportive housing for some of the city’s homeless.

The 7-to-2 vote in favor of the rezoning allows the city to rebuild the run-down hotel into 70 permanent supportive housing units for Chattanoogans battling the cold on the streets.

Chattanooga Chief of Staff Joda Thongnopnua says the best way to tackle homelessness is to provide homes.

He says both he and the mayor’s office are excited to get to work on the project and create a “significant dent” in the city’s homelessness problem.

“This is the largest supportive housing project that we’ve ever put together as a community,” Thongnopnua said. “From the outside, they’ll look like regular apartment units that you and I would live in with regular leases. But they’ll have that extra support in the form of case managers to make sure that folks who are previously homeless have the support they need to be successful.”

Recently, hundreds of neighboring residents expressed concern and anger over the thought of violent, even predatory, people being moved into the community near the neighboring Silverdale Baptist Academy.

Thongnopnua says tenants will be extensively screened.

Those on sex offender registries and with histories involving violent crime and drug charges will not be allowed to call the new building home.

“This project is an important step forward for our community, but it’s also a real asset to the surrounding neighborhood,” Thongnopnua said. “We’re going to be taking an eyesore and nuisance offline and replacing it with something productive that can help us solve a problem in our own community.”

Both the Chief of Staff and city Director of Homelessness Sam Wolfe understand the concerns and fears residents are facing.

However, Wolfe says the city is always listening to its residents and wants feedback both as the project develops and after tenants have moved in.

“I think people are excited to think about the prospect of having a home,” Wolfe said. “It’s exciting to hear that people are energized by this and they are seeing our efforts and the positive steps we’re taking to address this problem. But candidly, for me, the work’s not done until there’s no one else on our streets experiencing homelessness.”

Thongnopnua, as well as the mayor’s office, are encouraging residents to attend a pair of community roundtable events surrounding the newly approved project.

They will be held on November 30 and December 14 at Chattanooga’s Shepherd Community Center.

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