April 18, 2024

The Qualitative Impact of Eviction Access to Council in Chattanooga and Hamilton County

This study aims to compile personal narratives surrounding the impacts of the Eviction Prevention Initiative (EPI) implemented in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The EPI in Hamilton County has served clients since June 2020, providing free legal services and intensive case management to prevent and navigate the eviction process proactively. The need for such support services is underscored by the City of Chattanooga’s Housing Action Plan, which states, “Low-income renters are particularly at risk of displacement as fewer and fewer affordable rental options remain” (City of Chattanooga, 2023). Stable housing is an essential component of community wellness, demonstrated by its impact on children’s development, health, and success in school (Acosta, 2022). Broader implications of affordable housing include positively impacting a community’s economy and allowing community members to support one another, thereby fostering engagement and safety (Habitat for Humanity, n.d.).

The following report seeks to contribute to the research necessary to develop and support services in Hamilton County that will protect access to affordable housing, legal counsel, and social services. To achieve this, the researchers interviewed tenants who received services from the EPI, landlords in Hamilton County, and legal counsel representing landlords. The interviews highlighted the aspirations of tenants to maintain secure, affordable housing and landlords’ desire to maintain positive relationships with tenants to ensure stable housing and diminish the financial burden of tenant turnover. Despite these goals, interviewees described many challenges. Landlords cited hesitancy to accept Section 8 or difficulties with tenants who struggled to maintain timely rent payments. Alternately, tenants shared experiences of wrongful evictions, loss of stability, and significant life changes resulting from eviction proceedings.

Generally, tenants, landlords, and landlord counsel expressed positive regard for case management and access to counsel for tenants.