NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — This August, Nashvillians will head to the polls to vote in the Metropolitan General Election.
Earlier this year, Mayor John Cooper announced he would not be seeking re-election, creating a wide-open field of candidates in the race to be the 10th mayor of Metro Nashville.
News 2 submitted questionnaires to each of the candidates running for Nashville mayor. The form featured six questions addressing some of Music City’s biggest issues. One of those issues candidates were asked about was the lack of affordable housing in the area.
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Below you will find the answers candidates submitted for the question: How would you address the lack of affordable housing options around the city? (Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.)
“Planning Commissions/ the Council need not accept every building project without an explanation of how companies will give back to the area of where they wish to build in Nashville. Also, business/leasing apartments/landlords who have units reserved for low-income citizens should be given tax breaks incentives for helping with the housing crisis.”
“If elected, I will have a plan to increase funding for affordable housing through public-private partnerships, tax incentives and help incentivize developers to build more affordable housing developments. Inclusionary zoning policies require a certain percentage of new housing developments to be affordable to low- and moderate-income households. This can help to ensure new housing is developed in Nashville. Many low-income families in our city struggle to afford housing due to high-cost rent. Expanding access to rental assistance programs can help struggling families. Mixed-income developments that include both market rates and affordable housing can also create more diverse and inclusive communities. These developments can be supported through funding mechanisms and zoning policies that incentive mixed-income development.”
“Nashville is a rapidly growing city in the heart of one of the fastest growing regions in America. Over time as we have seen both an increase in population and industry, the accessibility and affordability of our city has dramatically declined. While the state legislature has stripped the ability of local governments to require developers to include affordable housing as part of the planning process, there are still a number of ways to tackle the issue at the local level. As mayor, I will harness the full power of public and private partnerships, such as the Barnes Housing Trust Fund, which has leveraged more than $933 million in federal and private funds to deliver 4000 affordable housing units. In order for Nashville to continue its ascent as a global economic center, we must ensure that people can actually afford to live, work, and raise a family here in Music City.”
“This question cannot be directed solely to Nashville. It is a national problem that has saturated the entire country due to our continued dependence on others as opposed to independence. Politics is in the way depending if you carry a D or an R in front of your name. There is a continued divisiveness as politicians choose politics over policy, often compromising what is best for Nashville.
This is a rather open-ended, somewhat hypothetical question, so let me just respond that I firmly believe there are neighborhoods around the city in need of city-provided funding. One of my utmost duties as mayor is to see that those neighborhoods with the greatest need receive the much-needed funding to enhance their neighborhoods, regardless of property values. We are all taxpayers, therefore we are all equal in services for those neighborhoods and they should receive government funding.”
“We’ve done multiple affordable housing studies. Each one tells us the problem is worse than the last time we studied it. It’s a shame that the unrestrained growth has priced so many people out of our city.
Even the people who serve our city — our teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other Metro workers — cannot afford to live here anymore.
This is another example where the city has kicked the can. The magnitude of the challenge is now measured in tens of thousands of units needed and billions of dollars to make it happen.
That’s why we need leadership that will work for the people instead of for out-of-town developers to address the affordable housing crisis. And it starts with three things:
- Properly invest in the Barnes fund to create more affordable housing here in Nashville.
- Make use of the land the city owns that is ripe for affordable housing development.
- Harness the power of the private sector to make multibillion-dollar investments in housing and make it easier for affordable housing to be built.”
“Just like homelessness and traffic, we have to prioritize affordable housing. A lot of our housing issues are coming from people realizing how great of a city Nashville is, and how great it is to start a family and build a life here. Unfortunately, this is creating a lot of displacement for working and middle-class legacy residents. I have a two-pronged plan composed of preservation and creation to ensure anyone who wants to live in Nashville can.
First, is preservation. We need to make sure pre-existing affordable housing remains affordable. For this, we need property tax relief. Many corporations like Amazon are coming into Nashville. We can use the money they generate for a property tax relief fund. We also need money for maintenance. Many people who receive affordable housing have trouble maintaining the home, then sell it off to a developer, and then we’re back at step one. We need to provide financial support for owners of affordable housing by beefing up the city’s Barnes Fund.
Second, we need to create new housing stock to keep pace with how quickly Nashville is growing. We need to give tax credits to developers to incentivize them to build attainable housing. There is a huge market gap for folks who don’t qualify for affordable housing but can’t afford market-rate housing. Tax incentives can cause developers to fill up this gap. And needless to say, there is a lot of unused city land in the Bordeaux area of Nashville, acres, and acres of land just sitting empty. We can prioritize the development of this land for housing.
Finally, this is a big task. If we want to fix the housing crisis in Nashville, we need to form a coalition of developers, corporations, and grassroots organizations to work together to get housing development pushed through.”
Note: In her questionnaire, Johnson’s answer to this question was combined with the first question on the survey (addressing homelessness). Below is the response to that question which includes addressing affordable housing.
“I am putting the responsibility to house our neighbors on the streets on the council members who serve them in those districts. I will be meeting with the metro council and implementing unhousing housing plan, focusing on the 8,000+ metro students without housing first. Identity low-income and affordable housing stock in each district (building a live site and emergency alarm (potentially into hub Nashville) for any district that moves below our marker of acceptable low-income and affordable housing stock. Each member will be tasked with meeting with their district neighbors about the housing plan we must implement in each district and receiving input about feelings of where they believe we can add more low-income and affordable housing and what it should look like. We will also have a 48-hour response time to help people off the streets. If I continue to see encampments in certain districts, I will personally sit with them and the nonprofit leaders in outreach to help them implement their plans of housing the unhoused.”
“Frankly, some other candidates have pursued a strategy of growth without guardrails that exacerbated issues of affordability, where I have fought it at every turn. I was a co-sponsor of the “Do Better” bill that added accountability to our incentive model and supported the overhaul of tax increment financing (TIF) to make sure it’s a tool that’s used in a way that isn’t just a fast track to development.
The Barnes Housing Trust Fund has been one of our most important and effective tools at creating new affordable housing options. As mayor, I will do something we’ve never been able to do yet: commit to a recommended budget that includes $30 million for the duration of the term.
I will also create a dedicated Office of Housing to focus on this problem. The office will focus on more than housing units; it will work to acquire grants and federal funds and serve as a coordinator between Metro departments. In recent years, I’ve been frustrated to see projects that I’ve worked on face preventable delays due to things within Metro’s control, like water line connections. This Office would work to create project pathways with clear timelines that reduce red tape, and help the nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and developers looking to make a difference in this space navigate the complexities of developing property and accessing assistance. Affordable housing is interconnected with every other issue our city faces, especially transit, so having a team dedicated to this work will ensure it is always top of mind. It would also work to address longstanding issues with MDHA to rebuild trust and confidence in that agency.
There are other very effective methods of ensuring affordability that we just can’t access, like meaningful unit mandates in new developments, because the state prohibits them. And while the state may try to break our affordable housing tools as quickly as we create them, we have to continue to pursue innovative solutions. I’ve been proud to support one such solution that allows residents to pay an affordable rent while the city pays the remaining amount of market price. There’s no financial downside to developers and landlords participating, so we need to ensure there is both knowledge about the program and support in applying for and implementing it.”
“In Nashville, 47% of our housing supply is rented instead of owned. This is significantly higher than the national average of 34% and puts plainly what many longtime Nashvillians feel – that Nashville is a place for developers buying property to rent as short term properties or for investments.
Broadly speaking we need to re-examine the entire metro zoning and permitting process – both sides, developers and neighborhood leaders – are frustrated that the “SP” process has overtaken any of the traditional community plans or community plan amendments. The volume of building permits (some $5 billion) has overwhelmed the existing systems and we need to leverage new state laws – such as the ability for electricians not employed by Metro – to be able to conduct inspections in order to help bring housing units online, quicker, which should lower the overall cost of construction. We need to identify other bottlenecks and determine what we can do to build temporary capacity to work through the permitting backlogs which contribute to higher costs.
Specifically to affordable housing we need to review all of our tools (MDHA, Barnes, Catalyst Fund) but also figure out what is missing from our portfolio and bring it to the table. We need to reset our relationship with the THDA so that more Davidson County residents are receiving the benefits of these state programs. Ultimately, any funds used for affordable housing need to be performance managed through to be sure that every dollar is effectively used.
Last, we need to not raise property taxes. Some of our most affordable housing units, older buildings, were made significantly less affordable by raising taxes that were passed on in the form of higher rents.”
“Addressing the lack of affordable housing in Nashville will require a multi-faceted approach that involves increasing the supply of affordable housing, preserving existing affordable housing, and providing resources and support to low-income residents. I cannot say it enough. The government cannot do this alone. Here are some strategies that can be used to address the lack of affordable housing options in Nashville:
- Encourage the development of affordable housing: We can incentivize developers to build affordable housing units through measures such as zoning bonuses, density bonuses, and tax abatements. This can increase the supply of affordable housing and provide more options for low-income residents.
- Increase funding for affordable housing: We will allocate more funding for affordable housing development and preservation through sources such as bonds, tax credits, and grants. This can provide developers with the financial resources they need to build or preserve affordable housing units.
- Address homelessness: Addressing homelessness can help free up resources for affordable housing and prevent people from slipping into homelessness due to lack of affordable housing. The city can provide resources such as rental assistance, job training, and mental health services to help people experiencing homelessness get back on their feet and access affordable housing.
- Promote mixed-income neighborhoods: Mixed-income neighborhoods can create a more diverse and inclusive community while also providing more affordable housing options. The city can encourage the development of mixed-income housing projects through zoning and tax incentives.
- Collaborate with the private sector, nonprofit community, and faith organizations: The government alone cannot address the issues of affordable housing. We must work together with developers and business leaders and our nonprofit organizations and faith leaders to collectively address the affordable housing issues facing our city.”
“Nashville is facing an affordability crisis. A 2021 analysis showed nearly half of Nashville renters were cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their monthly income in rent. In 2019, after serving as the head of economic and community development under three Mayors, I helped the city craft an ambitious affordable housing plan and joined the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency to implement that plan.
In less than three years at MDHA we had some real success. MDHA opened more than 500 units of mixed-income housing and assisted the development of an additional 3,500 units of affordable housing by the private sector.
We must make investing into affordable housing a top priority. That starts with strengthening the Barnes Housing Trust Fund and accelerating the transformation of our public housing sites from areas of concentrated poverty into thriving mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods without displacing residents.
But, the public sector cannot do this alone. We need to incentivize the private sector to include affordable housing units within market-rate developments and reduce the regulatory burdens on creating new housing options for Nashvillians.
Ultimately the price of housing is based on the supply and demand. We want Nashville to continue to be a place that folks want to live, so we’re going to need to help the supply meet the demand.”
“It would be misguided for Nashville to limit its affordable housing agenda to public sector investments and projects. As the Senate sponsor of the original legislation authorizing Metro to make direct appropriations to support affordable housing and to obtain property that can be converted and used for affordable housing, I believe those efforts are critical. But we’ll only be nibbling around the edges of the larger affordability problem if our approach is limited to public sector spending by Metro, the Barnes Fund, and MDHA. Fundamentally, Nashville doesn’t have enough housing, and until supply catches up with demand, home prices will continue to rise and rents will continue to soar. First, we should make it a downhill endeavor for the private sector to build housing that will be attainable by individuals and families across the county and across income levels. That means cleaning up and speeding up the procedures for zoning, permitting, inspecting, and constructing affordable housing to eliminate unpredictability, delay, and increased costs. Second, we should prioritize our work to repair and rehabilitate the existing affordable housing stock before it is lost, and crack down on predatory practices targeting low-income residents. Third, Metro should be better leveraging government-owned properties to advance significant development in the type of housing that’s affordable for the teachers, police officers, and teachers who make this city work. Fourth, the Mayor should bring together business, philanthropies, and nonprofit organizations to advance public-private partnerships to build additional housing options. Whether that’s partnering with the music business to design and build housing and creative spaces for emerging artists, facilitating area colleges’ construction of additional student housing, or partnering with nonprofits to construct permanent supportive housing for homeless or at-risk populations, we should be bringing more ideas, resources, and dollars to the table to collectively solve a problem affecting us all. Finally, to make a housing abundance agenda feasible, we must ensure infrastructure and city services are keeping pace. Affordable housing isn’t just a top concern for voters, but a strategic imperative for the city, which requires making housing a whole-community priority.”
To read candidates’ answers to the other questions submitted addressing some of Music City’s biggest issues, click here.
The Metropolitan General Election takes place on August 3. A runoff will be held on September 14, if necessary.