Today is my last day as the Chair of the Metro Council Affordable Housing Committee for fiscal year 2021. I am grateful to the Vice Mayor for the opportunity to chair the committee. Thanks to the administration, the Metro Council and Metro staff for the support. I appreciate the many individuals and agencies that are working on this issue on a regular basis (Metro Action Commission, MDHA, Housing Commission, Social Services, nonprofit organizations, builders, etc). Last and definitely not least, special thanks to my committee members – Councilmembers Allen, Hausser, Mendes, Parker, Sepulveda, Sledge, Taylor, Toombs and Welsh for their passion and dedication.
The issue of affordable housing is not new. Several reports by prior administration have highlighted this as an area to focus on. However, the tornado, flood, COVID and influx of people moving to Nashville has brought this issue to the forefront in 2021. A 2017 Housing report released by the Mayor Megan Barry Administration reported that Nashville has an 18,000 housing units deficit. The report indicated that with nothing done, the rental housing gap will increase to 31,000 by 2025. A couple of years later, the report by Mayor Cooper’s Affordable Housing Task Force now projects the housing gap will be 50,000 by 2030.
Is this a renters only issue?
No. Housing affordability affects both renters and home-owners. Nearly one out of four homeowners is cost-burdened, including more than three out of five low-income homeowners. At the same time, 44% of renters are cost-burdened, including more than 70% of low-income renters. Housing affordability is a nationwide issue. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the US has a national shortage of more than 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for families in need.
Understanding the Terminologies
Housing affordability is defined by the percentage of income that a household spends on housing. If the cost of housing (rent or mortgage) is less than 30% of income, then for that household, housing is considered affordable. Spending over 30% of income on housing, means the household is cost-burdened, while a cost of over 50% means the household is severely burdened.
Another terminology used in relation to housing is the Area Median Income (AMI). The area median income is calculated on an annual basis for each metropolitan area and non-metropolitan county. It is used by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in determining eligibility for certain federal housing programs. AMI is the midpoint of a region’s income distribution. Meaning half of families in a region earn more than while the other half earn less than the median.
Why is it important to increase housing affordability?
Benefits for Families
- Housing is the key to reducing intergenerational poverty and increasing economic mobility.
- Research shows that increasing access to affordable housing is the most cost-effective strategy for reducing childhood poverty and increasing economic mobility in the United States
- Increased quality of life for the family especially children
Benefits for Cities
- A report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) projects that the creation of 100 affordable rental homes would generate almost $12 million in local income, over $2 million in taxes, and other government funding along with over 160 jobs in the first year.
- A research project conducted for the Corporation of Supportive Housing (CSH) in 2004 detailed some of the daily costs of these alternatives, which would lead to reduced costs.
- The study focused on nine major metropolitan areas with similar results.
- In Chicago, for example, the daily cost of supporting affordable housing was $33.45. Every “alternative” was more expensive. *Shelter: $40.28/day, *Jail: $91.78/day, *Mental Hospital $541.00/day, *Prison: $117.08/day and *Hospital: $1,770.00/day
- The study focused on nine major metropolitan areas with similar results.
Reasons for Housing Shortages/Affordability
In order to address housing affordability, it is critical to understand why it’s important. The last 2 years have been tough on Nashville/ Davidson residents with an unprecedented increase in loss of jobs due to COVID-19. The tornado and flood also resulted in the loss of homes by many Nashvillians. While COVID-19 and natural disasters added to the problem, the fact is that housing affordability has always been an issue. Below are some of the historical causes of housing shortages/affordability in Nashville
- Low income— The cost of living continues to go up while income remains the same for many residents. Unfortunately, while the cost of rent has increased by 100% for some, Tennessee’s minimum wages for many is still at 7.25 (same as it was in 2008). To put it in perspective, an individual making minimum wage can only earn an annual salary of $15,080. With an average rent of $1000, many are finding it difficult to find a palace to stay.
- Influx of people— The increase in the number of people moving to Nashville has caused a serious housing issue for residents. Many of the individuals moving in are coming from cities with high cost of housing. People are offering prices way higher than what locals can afford. The practice of cash offers and offers of more than 10-25% above the asking prices by out of towners has resulted in an increase in the cost of housing affordability for long-term residents. This influx has also resulted in landlords selling properties from under long-term renters and a surge in rent increase demand.
- State Preemption— A big barrier to creating affordable housing in Nashville is blanket state laws that work for other parts of the state and not for Nashville/ Davidson county. The state has also historically blocked measures by Metro Council to address housing affordability. Examples include the inclusionary zoning passed bill passed by the previous council but preempted by the state. Another baffling rule is the state law that allows impact taxes by cities or counties except for metro areas. Charging impact fees on development will generate additional funding that can be used to alleviate some of the housing issues created by the development
- Perception– Unfortunately, the development of affordable housing is impacted by negative perceptions by some residents. Some residents oppose zoning and legislative measures that will create affordable housing in their neighborhood. While neighborhoods have a say in the developments in their area and should have a say, it is important for residents to be educated about affordable housing
- Other barriers include funding (local, private), etc and land shortages
Some of the steps taken in FY21 to address housing issues
Mayor’s Housing Task Force
In January 2021, Mayor Cooper convened an Affordable Housing Task Force. The task force was charged with examining the current housing tools to understand their effectiveness, studying peer cities for best practices, and developing recommendations that would create or catalyze significant progress within the next 1-3 years. I had the honor of serving on the task force along with my colleague CM Allen and 20 other community leaders and housing advocates. What made this task force unique is the diversity of the membership and the wealth of knowledge and the passion that the group possesses. The group was determined from the onset about not just making recommendations. It is important to the group that the report include a road map to the implementation.
Fiscal Year 2022 Budget
The FY 22 budget included an increased amount for spending for affordable housing way more than previous years. Some of the initiatives funded below by the mayor were as a result of the task force recommendations.
- $22.5 million for the city’s Barnes Fund, which includes both recurring city and one-time federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) dollars
- $3 million to encourage private-sector participation in affordable housing development with a payment in lieu of taxes program
- $10 million (ARP dollars) to create a Catalyst Fund so Nashville can quickly preserve at-risk units and proactively create affordable housing near proposed public projects (bus stops, parks, community centers, and libraries)
- A plan to partner with a private or nonprofit developer to build affordable housing on nearly three acres of Metro-owned property at 2119 24th Ave. N.
- $500,000 to create a long-term Metro Nashville housing plan
- Resources to bring two full-time housing experts to Metro Planning
- $2 million in capital spending to leverage participation agreements with developers to preserve and create more affordable housing.
From bills that increase notice to renters before lease termination to one that increases notice prior to sale, to allocating funds for rental assistance, The Metro Council via the Affordable Housing Committee and the general body passed a series of legislations to help with affordable housing. Below are some of the bills passed in FY 21 by the council affordable housing committee
- Federal Funding- CARES ACT/ARP/HOPE– To assist cities in dealing with this nationwide crisis, Metro received 59 million from the Federal Government to assist residents in paying their rents and utilities. The program is administered via the Metro Action Commission (MAC). To date over $21M has been paid out.
- 20% of Barnes Fund to smaller not for profits – I am very proud to sponsor BL2021-725 that requires that 20% of Barnes Fund awards should go to qualified small nonprofits for the creation/preservation of affordable housing and for capacity building. We will not increase the number of builders and ultimately the numbers of units produced unless we increase the number of providers. Assisting small developers through the capacity building will help increase the pool. It also helps ensure equity and participation in the Nashville housing market by small organizations that are often service-based and minority-led.
- $3M for rental assistance – RS2021-1116– I am proud to work with the administration and Metro Action Commission in allocating $3M for rental assistance to individuals that did not meet the eligibility criteria for the HOPE rental assistance program. The HOPE program has been used primarily for individuals that make less than 80% of AMI with emphasis on those making less than 50%. The truth is there are many making above the AMI that are still struggling due to the high cost of living. This allocation allows those making between 80-100% AMI to be able to get assistance and avoid eviction. Thus enabling us to help residents that barely miss the income requirement.
- 50% of Property Taxes from Oracle Deal – Amendment to RS2021-908– While Oracle did not create the housing crisis in Nashville, the truth is that having several folks move here will add to the issue. Though this bill did not come before the Affordable Housing Committee, I am a proud sponsor of an amendment stating the council’s intent to set aside 50% of property taxes collected from the deal for affordable housing. The resolution is a non-binding resolution and every year, each council must approve the appropriation for it to be effective. My hope is that future councils will honor the bill and allocate the funds every year as intended.
- Barnes Fund Allocation- The committee passed resolutions allocating over $10M in Barnes Fund to various not for profits. The allocation includes 7 new awards and an amendment to an existing award. Total units to be created by not for profit developers, by leveraging the Barnes award with other sources of funding will be 465 units
- Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT)– The affordable housing Committee as well council passed several resolutions that leveraged tax dollars in creating affordable units through the MDHA PILOT programs.
- Unhoused Population– The issue of unhoused residents was prominent during FY21 with homeless camps springing up across the city. The committee voted for an $850K allocation (RS2021-1084 by Rosenberg) to fund Mobile Housing Navigation Centers and two outreach coordinators. Since its inception, the mobile housing centers have helped 452 neighbors. 211 of these households are families with children. Another initiative by the Cooper administration is the establishment of the Landlord Guarantee Fund. With donations from the Frist Center, the fund can be used to reimburse the landlord for damages or missed rent payments.
- Other Bills -The committee passed several other bills including BL2020-456 by Toombs requiring landlords to give 90 days’ notice to tenants prior to termination of the lease, RS2020-668 by Hurt to assist families with home energy retrofit, and RS2021-1035 by Allen, recommending that landlord explore alternatives to evictions.
COVID-19 and natural disasters compounded the issues of housing this year. While there is still a lot to be done, it was important for me to share what we did together this year. I will continue to serve on the Affordable Housing Committee and work with the new chair and my other colleagues. In addition to my regular council committees (Affordable Housing, Budget, Personnel, and Education), I have had the honor of serving as the council liaison on both the Audit Committee and the Metro Action Commission for the past 2 years. Starting this FY 22, I will be stepping down from both the audit committee and MAC. However, I have asked to be the council liaison to the Housing Trust Fund Commission. I believe being on the Housing Trust Fund Commission will allow me to continue working on affordable housing.
The issue of affordable housing is complex. The solution will have to be multifaceted with participation from residents, landlords, businesses, lenders, and government. We must continue to educate our citizens about affordable housing and plead with landlords to work with tenants. Nashville is the business capital of the state and a large percentage of the state revenues comes from Nashville. The hope is that the state will ease up on its pre-emption and allow Metro and each municipality to make the decision for their residents. Using the task force recommendations as a guide, Metro government must continue to work with community partners and create lasting resources/funding, along with legislations that support housing on an ongoing/long term basis
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.
- Residents Needing Assistance for Rent or Utilities
Call MAC Rent & Utilities assistance at 615-862-RENT (7368), Monday – Saturday 7AM-7PM or check out their website at https://www.nashville.gov/departments/metro-action
- Continuum of Care Homeless Planning Council
For more information, check out https://www.nashville.gov/departments/social-services/boards/homelessness
- Council Bill Search
For a complete list of all the bills, check out Metro legislation website
- Affordable Housing Task Force Report
A copy of the task force report can be found here. Please read in order to have an appreciation of the housing crisis, history, cause and recommended solutions.
- Metro Housing Trust Fund Commission