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 next mayor of Music City.
One of those candidates is Matt Wiltshire.
Wiltshire is the former Economic and Community Development Director for the Mayor’s Office where he served for eight years. He was also the Chief Strategy and Intergovernmental Affairs Officer for the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency and has previously served as the Chair of the Board of Hands On 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—including crime rates, mass transit, homelessness, and the Metro government’s current relationship with the state government. Below you will find Wiltshire’s answers to those questions.
How would you address the homelessness issues in Nashville?
Wiltshire: “No person in our city should be without a safe place to stay. At its core housing insecurity is driven by affordability – and we have a lot of work to do in order to make housing more affordable in Nashville. This is an issue I’ve worked on extensively.
Beyond making housing more affordable in Nashville we must understand that each person experiencing housing insecurity is an individual and experiencing their own individual challenges. We must do a better job of coordinating services to ensure that folks are receiving the wrap-around care they need, such as: mental health care, combating domestic violence, addressing substance abuse, or finding a job.”
What does the future of mass transit look like in Nashville, in your opinion?
Wiltshire: “The transportation infrastructure in Nashville needs to work so that parents and employers can spend more time with their families and less time sitting in vehicles. Beginning to build a skeleton on which our city can grow will put us in a good position for the future. The first investment that I will make as Mayor is dedicated-lane mass transit from the airport to downtown along Murfreesboro Road. There are huge opportunities to put affordable housing at transit stops so that workers can get downtown or out to the airport, which is a large employer, without having to pay $20, $30 or $40 for parking. With this initial investment we can build a track record of success and take that momentum forward to build a broad-scale structure. This investment will pull traffic off the interstate and help build a culture of mass-transit in Nashville.
There are some operational improvements we should be making in our current transit system, such as extending the hours of service and increasing the frequency of the bus system. I’ve also been very outspoken about my support for building transit-oriented redevelopment — like what’s happening in Donelson and Madison — and building up neighborhood nodes so that folks can live and work in proximity to neighborhoods.”
If elected, how would you work to repair the relationship between the Metro Nashville government and the state government?
Wiltshire: “The relationship between Nashville and the state is fundamentally broken right now. Bridging this gap and stopping future politically-motivated attacks on Nashville begins with building relationships between the Mayor, the Governor, and the legislature. I have a proven track record of working with the state from my time in the Mayor’s Office and repairing the current divide will be an early priority of mine as mayor. I will note that when we develop relationships it doesn’t mean we compromise our core principles – in fact it puts us in a stronger position to stand up for our principles. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Getting this fixed is important because neither the city nor the state will be successful if we don’t work together.”
What would be your approach to addressing crime in the city and the increasing rate of violent crimes committed by juveniles?
Wiltshire: “Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community, and increasingly Nashville feels less safe than it used to.
If every child in our city was able to attend a truly excellent public school it would open up a world of possibilities and opportunities for young people who might otherwise engage in unproductive activity – like violence. I truly believe Nashville has the opportunity before it to have the best public schools of any city in America.
Prioritizing investments into mental health resources and evidence-based violence interruption programs are going to be critical in order to address violent crime more broadly. We must also address staffing shortages within MNPD and continue to invest in technology in order to make it more likely that if you’re engaged in violence that you will be caught.”
How would you address the lack of affordable housing options around the city?
Wiltshire: “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.”
What do you believe is the biggest issue affecting Nashville and how would you plan to address it?
Wiltshire: “Nashville should have the best public schools in the country. I’m a graduate of MNPS. Each of our kids has attended public schools for at least part of their education. (Our youngest will start kindergarten at MNPS in the fall), and they’ve gone to a variety of schools: traditional zoned public, private, magnet, charter, and Spanish-immersion. It’s about finding the right fit for each kid. Every parent and guardian in Nashville should be able to choose from a variety of great schools.
The reality is that we’re asking our school system to “solve” a whole host of broader issues in our society–poverty, violence, hunger, trauma, and homelessness–while also educating kids who are bringing those challenges into the classroom. We need to provide additional support services for kids, so that our teachers can focus on teaching and our kids can focus on learning in the classroom.
With all of the excellent colleges training teachers and dedicated nonprofits here, our schools have the opportunity to be truly excellent. To reach that goal we’re going to need to bring together the public sector, the private sector and the nonprofit sector to align our goals, objectives and efforts. That coordination requires leadership and the mayor is uniquely positioned to do that.”
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To read responses from other candidates in the race, click here.
The Metropolitan General Election takes place on August 3. A runoff will be held on September 14, if necessary.
Candidates have until noon on May 18 to qualify.