Mayoral Affordable Housing Forum

So, if you haven’t been following Nashville’s election for Mayor, let me be the first to tell you: we have a surprisingly good bunch of candidates. I don’t always agree with most of them, and I definitely like some more than others, but they are a surprisingly well-educated group of people, and so far everyone has been capable of surprising me.I suppose to some extent, being a smaller local mayoral election, they aren’t groomed to the extent that they are in larger elections. Utterances of actual substance still have a chance of slipping out now and then. But I digress.

Tonight was the Affordable Housing Forum, at the downtown library. I won’t recap it question for question, because, essentially, every question was exactly the same. (“How do you feel about affordable housing?” “Do you think we need affordable housing?” As mayor, how would you facilitate affordable housing?” “Who would win in a fight? Jesse Ventura or Affordable Housing?” “Do u like affordable housing: check [ ] Y [ ] N?”) I’ll just try to summarize each candidates larger points. But first, some background they provided in the form of numbers, which were presented as a prelude to the forum:

  • Home values are increasing, but real incomes are not. Median income in Davidson county, adjusted for inflation, is down 10%, while average home values are up 25%.
  • Davidson County exists in an area of low-income housing market (The suburbs are the “donut”, we’re the hole.)
  • Half of Nashville’s households are considered “low-income” by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • One-third of Davidson County is “Cost-Burdened” (a household that spends more than 30% of their gross income on housing is deemed Cost-Burded)
  • Almost all households earning less than $20k/year are Cost-Burdened.

Prior to this, Reverend Bill Barnes (essentially the patron saint (do methodists have saints?) of affordable housing in Nashville) ran down his list of his three essential points for success with affordable housing:

  • An extensive info-gathering system to identify how funding is keeping up with need.
  • A housing trust fund
  • Inclusionary zoning

And now, the key points of the candidates. What follows is my paraphrasal of what I took away from their comments and does not constitute their authoritative platform. But hey, what does?

Buck Dozier

By my count, Buck Dozier mentioned the word “faith” or “faith-based” around 3-4 times, but I won’t hold it (much) against him.But it was the essence of his opening statement. He referenced his church and their efforts, and wants to rely on faith-based organizations heavily. He wants to emphasize that the placement of affordable housing coincide with the location of median-income job locales. He believes in investing in local infrastructure and providing bonuses for developers (no details given, though). When asked if he would commit to $5 million to fund the Barnes (Reverend Barnes’) Affordable Housing Trust Fund, he said it’s a worthy idea and he would commit “to look into it.” He suspects the next mayor will contend with extensive financial “issues”, so doesn’t want to mislead anyone.

Howard Gentry

Howard Gentry’s opening statement emphasized “diversity in housing”, though with a characteristic lack of clarification on what exactly that means. He was ambiguous to start but became increasingly comfortable and confident in his oratory. He wants to avoid concentration of affordable housing development in any one place. Ostensibly to avoid forming a ghetto. I sorta thought this was Urban Planning 101 stuff, but hey, at least he’s on board. He wants to avoid affordable housing units turning into rising real-estate values that drives the actual lower-income residents out. I.e. “gentrification is bad, mmkay”. He also said something about how subsidizing affordable housing would be a net-win due to lower construction costs, but I wasn’t clear on what he meant here. He defended the council’s performance (after some outsider barbs about the council/mayor’s ineffectiveness) but agreed we haven’t done enough. He said we can’t rely on state/federal funding (in response to Clement — surprise) and that we need to “step up” and commit to funding these endeavors. He said that these issues of homelessness and affordable housing are the tough parts of government, and they’re the part that really turns him on. To give credit to the audience, no one giggled. Well, except for me, that is.

Karl Dean

Dean emphasized that affordable housing is a “thread” that connects everything, from safety, to schools, to our economy. He wants to find existing urban areas for multi-family home development that are located near to existing infrastructure. He cited Providence Park as an example. On the question of committing $5 million to the Barnes fund, he said he’s willing to “look” into it, but acknowledges that it’s challenge. He thinks we need to solicit state/federal/non-profit funds and commit to holding an annual forum on the subject. He wants to emphasize alternate avenues of funding and wants to protect the middle class.

David Briley

Unfortunately David Briley was double-booked, so had to leave after the first question, though to his credit, I think he managed to fire off more tangible ideas in this time than most of the candidates did through the entire event. He considers a failure to provide low-income housing to be a “moral failure”, as well as an economic failure. He thinks we need to consider our tax policy as the first culprit in discouraging the construction of affordable housing. He acknowledges and wants to correct the increasing income gap in Davidson county. Some of the ideas he has to do so include density bonuses, tax credits for low-income housing, and Habitat-for-Humanity multi-family units without parking to encourage the development of urban infrastructure and community.

Kenneth Eaton

Eaton drives me nuts, but he definitely gets the award for most outspoken, and he actually had some good things to say. He started off pretty weak, with an opening statement that could be summed up as “I think being poor sucks”. His worst moment came when he said he wants to “help you all get housed .. well, first i want you to get a job.” Because, as we all know, people without affordable housing don’t have jobs. (Note for the sarcasm-impaired: that was sarcasm.) But he rebounded well enough and emphasized some common sense ideas about affordable housing being colocated with median-income jobs (a common theme for the afternoon). He said he’d commit to $5 mil for the Barnes housing trust fund, and pointed out that if we can commit $5 mil (at least) a year to fund the Schermerhorn (which he referred to as “a monument”), how come we can’t house our homeless people? Damn straight. He also emphasized starting at “the bottom” and working our way up. Lower-middle class people (Cost-Burdened) need help too, but there are people who don’t know where they’ll stay tonight — the homeless. These people need our help first. Pretty revolutionary stuff, I know. He apologized for his barb against the council for our ineffectiveness in affordable housing, and redirected the blame to the mayor, who he doesn’t feel has done enough. Most interestingly, he pledged that if elected, he’d find an “old warehouse” and build 200 units in 90 days that provides showers, food and social services to the homeless. Sounds pretty awesome, but I’ll eat my shoe leather with worcester sauce the day that it actually happens. He emphasized that he also wants to re-use existing houses in the $60-80k range and rehab them. I think that in this area his naivete shows, in that he seems to think his experience as a landlord will deliver salvation for the city via the miracle of real-estate. “Rehab a cheap house, let them build equity, and profit,” he says. If only it were always that easy.

Bob Clement

Phew. Bob Clement. I gotta say, I don’t understand how this guy is doing as well as he is. Bob Clement’s contribution to the forum can be summed up by his intention to use his “Washington contacts” to solicit for state and federal funds. As far as I can tell, that’s his solution for everything. The guy is a walking slogan.

5 Comments so far

  1. Sam Davdson (unregistered) on July 17th, 2007 @ 9:38 pm

    Thanks for the recap. Especially about Bob. That’s hilarious.


  2. Jeanna (unregistered) on July 18th, 2007 @ 9:09 am

    I can’t believe I missed this – particularly the chance to hear something as intelligent as the Schermerhorn/homeless housing comment come from Eaton. Thanks for the recap.


  3. Marc (unregistered) on July 18th, 2007 @ 9:20 am

    Thanks for your great coverage Chris! It’s hard to see them all, so your sumaries are very helpful.

    In terms of real estate and development issues, I just interviewed the candidates that agreed to meet with me for our podcast, to talk about local real estate and development issues. I asked each of them the same exact questions, covering the following topics:

    1. #1 ranking
    2. Convention center
    3. Thermal plant site
    4. Transportation/parking
    5. Downtown office vacancy
    6. Green/LEED buildings
    7. Cities to model

    So far I’ve gotten David, Buck, Karl and Howard. Bob has put off scheduling the interview several times. Hopefully he’ll step up soon with only a few days remaining!

    Check out the interviews at http://www.NAInashville.com


  4. Kevin Barbieux (unregistered) on July 18th, 2007 @ 10:47 am

    I was there for the opening statements and first few questions. I think points should be awarded to the candidates who actually understood and answered the nuances of the questions – which were just different angles towards the subject of affordable housing. Some understood the slight but important differences in the questions and some didn’t. But despite all that, it was clear that every single candidate “got” the issue. They all admitted that the lack of affordable housing was a problem that needed to be addressed, and in my estimation all had workable ideas.

    I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, but I would certainly have asked them what I think is the most important question. “Would you commit to a time-line for completing the solution to this problem?” And what would that time-line be.


  5. bob green (unregistered) on July 18th, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

    It seems after reading your write up Eaton has the best idea
    is his ideas like this at all forums?
    if so why is his name not out there
    I like what you said about him
    I will surly check him out

    bob



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