Nashville Advocates Push Mayor, Council for More Affordable Housing

As Nashville, TN faces a growing population and housing shortage, advocates seek more affordable housing for the city’s most vulnerable. Between 2010 and 2015, the Nashville metro area added an average of 30,875 people each year, a growth rate more than double the national rate in 2015. The production of housing has not kept up, driving up housing prices and tightening the rental market. Extremely low income renters, those with incomes at or below 30% of the area median income (AMI), have suffered the most. Advocates are calling for increased investments in the city’s housing trust fund and new legislation to provide additional affordable homes. 

In 2013, the city of Nashville established the Barnes Affordable Housing Trust Fund, named for longtime affordable housing advocate and NLIHC member, Reverend Bill Barnes. City officials set aside $2 million for the fund in its first year. Neighbors Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), A VOICE for the Reduction of Poverty, Open Table Nashville, and other advocates who had lobbied for the creation of the Barnes Fund, shifted their attention to its expansion and for additional housing legislation aimed at increasing the city’s affordable housing stock. At their February 2015 mayoral candidate forum, NOAH asked the seven candidates to endorse a platform that included within its housing plank, “[To] preserve and produce affordable housing through reoccurring funding for the Barnes Housing Trust Fund, inclusionary housing policies, and creative uses of federal, state and local funds.” Megan Barry, the then-councilmember and now mayor, endorsed the platform and made affordable housing a cornerstone of her campaign.

Since Mayor Barry’s inauguration, advocates have worked to hold her to her commitments. In 2016, Mayor Barry included $15 million in the FY 2016-2017 budget for the Barnes Fund, which is projected to create 300 homes affordable to those at 80% AMI or less, a significant increase from previous years. Advocates at NOAH support the mayor’s actions while pushing for the establishment of an office of affordable housing within the mayor’s office, the creation of an early warning system for properties nearing the end of their mandatory affordability periods, and the rehabilitation of existing homes.

NOAH, A VOICE, and Open Table Nashville are also advocating for the creation of an inclusionary zoning policy affecting developers seeking exemptions from the city’s zoning laws. A newly introduced bill, BL 133, would require developers seeking an exemption for a new property exceeding density requirements to set aside units for workforce housing or to contribute to the Barnes Housing Trust Fund. Advocates understand this bill not as an ultimate solution but rather the first step in shifting the city’s approach to affordable housing and hope to secure additional funding for homes affordable for extremely low income (ELI) residents.

The bill experienced a setback in April when the Tennessee legislature passed a new bill prohibiting local governments from enacting inclusionary zoning policies, in direct response to those proposed in Nashville. Still, advocates see a way forward for BL133, as the legislation would apply only to developers seeking exemptions to zoning laws. Many attended an August 2 Metro Council public hearing on the bill, testifying in support of the legislation and for additional affordable housing resources. Nashville advocates will continue to urge the mayor’s office, the Metro Council, and developers to make decent homes affordable for all Nashvillians.