Affordable Housing an Important Part of Great – and Just – City (An editorial by the Tennessee Register)

Posted 08/12/2016

Nashville, by all accounts, is booming, and many fortunate residents are reaping the rewards. New restaurants seem to open on a daily basis; parks and neighborhoods are undergoing revitalization; cultural offerings abound; property values are soaring.

Driving around the city, it's difficult to avoid construction zones. In many neighborhoods, older homes continue [to] fall to the wrecking ball to make way for new, far more expensive ones. Cranes dominate the skyline and shiny new condos are sprouting up at an unprecedented rate.

This is a great time to be a housing developer in Nashville. If you're already a homeowner, it's a great time to cash in on the thriving short-term rental market.

But it's not such a great time to be a working-class person looking for a decent place to buy or rent.

While developers invest in housing units that cater to the wealthiest citizens, more and more Nashvillians, including teachers, service industry employees and the musicians that give our city its world class reputation, are struggling to find affordable housing. More families are becoming "cost-burdened," paying more than 30 percent of their household income on their rent or mortgage, which can lead to difficult choices in paying for basic necessities such as food, utilities or transportation.

This issue came into sharp focus at a Metro Council meeting earlier this month, when affordable housing advocates spoke for more than two hours in support of a local inclusionary zoning bill that would require residential condo and apartment developers requesting a zoning variance to build five or more units to include a percentage of affordable or workforce units in their projects.

Aimee Shelide Mayer, advocacy and social justice coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tennessee, was one of about 50 people who spoke in favor of the bill at the Metro Council's public hearing on Aug. 2. She spoke about some of the scenarios that Catholic Charities clients encounter on a daily basis.

"We work with families who have been evicted from their homes without any warning because their landlord sold the property to a developer. Other Catholic Charities clients have also found themselves unexpectedly homeless due to rising rents in neighborhoods where they have lived, worked and sent children to school for years," Mayer told the Council. "Families, who once could afford monthly rents, are now couch surfing, staying in emergency shelters, or paying huge fees in monthly hotel rooms." [Click here for full statement.]

The Metro Council bill, which is strongly opposed by organizations including the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, will receive a final vote on Sept. 6. Until then, affordable housing advocates continue to rally support for the bill.

In its official advocacy position on affordable housing, the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops write that "decent, safe and affordable housing is a human right. Catholic teaching supports the right to private property, but recognizes that communities and the government have an obligation to ensure the housing needs of all are met, especially poor and vulnerable people and their families. At a time of rising homelessness and when many workers' wages are stagnant and living expenses are rising, it is important to ensure housing security."

Meeting the demand for affordable housing will require some creativity and a variety of solutions. We must take steps to preserve available housing through greater neighborhood preservation and revitalization, and support an increase in the production of affordable housing in both urban and rural areas.

Metro Council BL-133 is aimed at ensuring more affordable housing is available in our great city. Even though we may be living comfortably in our own homes, it is up to us, as Catholics, to advocate for more just housing policies at the city, state and national levels.

The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission, which represents the state's three bishops on public policy matters at the state level, has long supported the creation of a comprehensive plan to address the chronic need for affordable housing across Tennessee.

"Decent, affordable housing is not a temporary problem," according to the Commission. "It is a large-scale issue, and demands a large-scale response."

SOURCE: (Page 16)

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