Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s State of the City speech, titled “City of Creators,” announced several new initiatives. (Photo: Staff)

During his fifth State of the City Address, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke introduced several new initiatives that will target education, affordable housing and violence.

The speech focused on what Berke described as Chattanooga’s inclination to look at problems creatively when tackling obstacles.

“Creation is power,” Berke said. “When we realize we all possess that power — and we are intentional about what we can do with it … we can accomplish anything. This is what Chattanooga does. This is who Chattanoogans are.”

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Early learning program expansion
Berke announced a new goal for his administration of creating 1,000 additional seats for children to receive high-quality early education with the intention of closing the learning gap.

“One of the things that’s most important about whether a child is successful is how they spend those first few years of life,” Berke said. “If you start out the hundred-yard-dash 20 yards behind, you’re unlikely to win. What we want to do is help more kids start at the same place.”

To do this, Berke’s administration hopes to help existing early educators expand their services, improve the quality of some existing educational institutions, and help communal entities, like churches, start their own programs.

The cost of this will be determined on a by-program basis. The Berke administration intends to request funding for these purposes in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

“A city of creators invests in the next generation and the families that support their growth,” Berke said. “When all families are stronger and children in every zip code have a fair shot, we will all enjoy a more resilient and more prosperous future.”

Affordable housing trust fund
Berke said that he will request $1 million in the 2019 budget to be allocated to a new Affordable Housing Trust Fund to aid in the creation of affordable housing throughout Chattanooga.

This trust is meant as a solution to the decreasing amount of funding from the federal and state levels.

“The problems haven’t gone away, but the money has, leaving places like Chattanooga in a lurch,” Berke said.

He hopes that the trust fund will give the city another avenue to build more homes with, he said.

Mayor’s Council Against Hate
Also in the speech, Berke announced his plans to create the Mayor’s Council Against Hate which will target incidents of hate-speech and extremism in the community.

The decision to build the council came after an FBI report released in November 2017 showed that the number of hate crimes rose again in 2016. Tennessee ranked No. 9 in the total number of hate crimes.

The council will be in charge of looking at these problems and their causes and finding concrete solutions that the city could take to reduce the number of hate crimes in the community.

“After July 16, 2015, our city was held up as a model of how to respond to terrorism,” Berke said during the speech. “We can also be a model of how to stop the hate that inspires it in the first place.”

Growing Innovation District
Berke referenced a proposal the city is putting together that would allow the administration to use city-owned buildings and lots to help facilitate a more inclusive Innovation District.

“While we certainly welcome the many people moving here, we also want homegrown Chattanoogans filling up the high-paying jobs that are opening up here,” Berke said. “That means everyone should feel at home in our Innovation District, not just coders and developers…”

Suggestions have already been made to turn some city buildings into sites for low-income housing or additional space for new businesses.

Other notable points
— The Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport will soon be the first in the country and the fourth in the world to be net zero energy.

— The Martin Luther King Boulevard repaving project was finished on-time and under-budget.

Watch the full speech below.

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah

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