Nashville affordable housing law under threat in Tennessee legislature
A landmark Nashville ordinance passed last year to spur more workforce housing in new residential development faces the threat of repeal this year in the Tennessee General Assembly.
House Republican Majority Leader Glen Casada and Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, introduced legislation Thursday that singles out the Nashville law. It would outlaw local governments from requiring that developers include below-market rate units in exchange for greater development rights.
Under Metro’s law, which goes into effect in June, residential apartment developers in Nashville building five or more units will have to include a percentage of new workforce units in their projects when they request a zoning variance for greater development rights. These could include the ability to build taller that what is normally allowed or denser. City grants are meant to offset the costs of developers to make the housing cheaper than market value.
Casada, who represents parts of Williamson County, said multiple “business interests” from Nashville and Middle Tennessee approached him about the bill, which is in caption form. He said he’s still not sure whether he’s going to seek to advance the legislation but wants to have that option.
“That is the intent,” Casada said of targeting Nashville’s ordinance. “But it may be what they’re doing now is palatable and it may be a good thing. We’re kind of looking at what are the long-term effects of what Nashville’s doing on the free market (and construction and cost of new homes). We’re still studying it.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet. I am keeping the door open.”
Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, speaks before the House Republican Caucus votes on leadership positions at the Nashville City Club, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.
The Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, Greater Nashville Apartment Association and the conservative think tank Beacon Center of Tennessee each opposed the ordinance. The latter has said it plans to sue Metro after the city begins enforcing the requirements in June.
Council members, Metro planners and city attorneys landed on the development-entitlement approach to work around the passage of a new state law — also pushed by Casada and also inspired largely by debates in Nashville — that prohibited cities from mandating affordably priced units be included in all new new development. Critics, including the Beacon Center, argue the ordinance runs afoul of this state law anyway.
The newly file legislation notes the passage of last year’s state prohibition on mandatory inclusionary zoning and Metro’s ordinance, adding the attempt is to “clarify that neither Nashville nor any local government has the authority to enact such an ordinance.”
Councilman Fabian Bedne, who helped draft the local law, said that no apartment developers are forced to apply for more development rights under Metro’s law. He likened the requirement for affordable housing to public works, utilities and other stipulations Metro already applies to projects.
“We ask people to do all kinds of things,” he said. “There are requirements that are attached to granting that additional entitlements. This is the same thing.”
“I hope that Rep. Casada, if he as a better idea on how to solve our affordability problem, that he will help us solve the problem.”
Fabian Bedne (Photo: Submitted)
In addition to passing the inclusionary housing legislation last year, the council approved a new three-year voluntary pilot program pushed by Mayor Megan Barry to let residential developers who agree to build affordably priced units compete for financial incentives and grants totaling $2 million. Casada’s bill would not affect this law.
In a break from precedent, Barry’s mayor’s office has opted to not take stances on pending state legislation this year unless they are proactively supporting.
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.