We cannot end homelessness if we do not stop people from falling into it, and that requires affordable housing. Nashville is facing an affordable housing crisis: people whose families have been here for generations are being driven from the city, and not infrequently on to the street.
We recently helped a grandmother with 5 grandchildren move out of her apartment as we search for transitional housing. Teachers, firefighters, and police are forced to move outside the city to find affordable rents. Over half of Nashville renters are cost burdened, paying more than 30% of their income, often much more, for housing, leaving little left for food, heat, transportation, and other necessities. 1 in 5 Davidson county residents—129,000 people including some 35,000 children—live in poverty, and many have to supplement their incomes with food boxes.
Average rent in Nashville has risen to $1249 for a 1 bedroom apartment (Oct. 2016, rentjungle.com). A full-time, minimum wage job brings home $1160 before taxes, leaving a $89 deficit each month. Even if people share apartments, they suffer. The average 2 bedroom families need is $1547. This is a recipe for disaster. Taxpaying citizens are forced out of their housing as prices continue to rise. For example, between 2000 and 2012, the 12 South neighborhood saw a 269% increase in average housing costs and a 58% decrease in African American population. A study in the Journal of Urban Affairs found that for every $100 rise in rent, homelessness increases by 15%—and average 1 bedroom rents have risen by $343 since 2013. Entire families are pushed into homelessness, to say nothing of making it impossible to find housing for those we are working with. Besides raising the minimum wage, Open Table Nashville believes there are four ways to make progress:
- The Barnes Housing Trust Fund, designed to finance affordable housing, needs much better funding. Nashville falls way behind other cities of its size like Seattle or even smaller cities like Knoxville. Vanderbilt’s Jim Fraser, who is an expert in housing policy, recommends an endowment of $120 million, less than it cost to build the Sounds new stadium. Some 20% of housing trust funds around the country including Knoxville, which has less than a third of our population, Indianapolis, Savannah, Charlotte, and Charleston receive more than $10 million per year, and Seattle, a city Nashville’s size, has dedicated more than $20 million to their fund for the next 7 years. Nashville can and must do better.
- Inclusionary zoning, mandatory or incentivized, needs to be used to ensure developers build for all income levels, not just for middle to upper incomes. NashvilleNext has reasonably proposed a 14% requirement. Voluntary inclusionary zoning has been tried, with no results. Even if inclusionary zoning has to be incentivized, it can make a significant difference in what kinds of housing gets built and help break up concentrated poverty.
- Tax Increment Financing (TIF) needs to be directed at making Nashville something more than a city of shiny buildings for tourists and the wealthy. Wealthy and poor alike pay sales and property taxes (even if renting or at hotels, those rents go in part to pay taxes). These taxes fall far more heavily on the poor. Yet hundreds of millions of dollars of everybody’s tax dollars go to private developers’ projects, luxury hotels, high priced condominiums, baseball stadiums, and charming pedestrian bridges across the Gulch. A few of the smaller examples include the recent $12.5 million allocation to the 505 Church Street project planned to house upper income residents, $3.2 million approved for the Hyatt Hotel, $15 million for the Westin Hotel, and $18 million proposed to pay for a pedestrian bridge. The amount for two projects alone, the 505 Church and the Westin, is nearly 10 times the Barnes Fund endowment and 30 times the amount allocated for its growth. This is all the more ironic in that the competitive theory that drives much of this development would claim successful businesspeople should be able to fund these without government help. Meanwhile, families are falling into homelessness and being forced out of neighborhoods they have lived in for generations as gentrification sweeps the city and rents skyrocket. TIF funding was designed to help “blighted areas,” yet continues to be used to decorate the skyline rather than find homes for families, the elderly, and our most vulnerable neighbors. Under Mayor Purcell, much more funding was aimed at affordable housing. Nashville must aim this funding at impoverished areas and affordable housing rather than corporate welfare.
- A Community Land Trust would be a better way to make sure the housing trust fund properties stay affordable. Until the Metropolitan Housing and Development Agency proves itself more concerned with building affordable housing with local TIF dollars—housing aimed at those making 60% or less of area median income—instead of luxury condos and hotels, we believe the Barnes Housing Trust Fund should remain independent.
Open Table Nashville is in collaboration with community partners to fight for more low-income affordable housing. A Voice has sound position papers on these issues which can be found here: http://www.nashvillevoice.net/position-papers.html. Information about NOAH is here: http://www.noahtn.org.