Nashville’s rapid growth may appear unimpeded, but local leaders still see an affordable housing hurdle standing in the way of Music City’s full potential.
“There's been a great amount of economic success over the last few years here in Nashville. With Nashville being named the ‘it’ city, the question is, is it truly ‘it’ for all citizens?” asked Adriane Bond Harris, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s senior advisor for affordable housing.
City Council member Fabian Bedne, an affordable housing advocate, added that the problem didn’t sneak up on anyone.
“It was something that people could see coming. We have gentrification pressures, but the thing that really took the problem over the top was the fact that so many people move to Nashville every day, combined with the fact that many of the surrounding counties decided to make it harder for working-class families to live there,” Bedne said.
Addressing the problem demands a multifaceted approach, officials said.
Among Metro Council’s contributions was a $10 million grant this fall to the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing, a trust co-sponsored by Barry when she was a council member. The funds support affordable housing developments through nonprofits.
The private sector has role to play as well, and Kinloch Partners’ Bruce McNeilage is sold on the cause. The real estate investment partnership co-founded by McNeilage is behind the popular Solo East condominiums in East Nashville, which includes options starting at $149,900.
McNeilage told Crain’s Nashville that his five-year business plan includes more Solo-like projects, taking the Solo East concept to all sides of the city. In late October, the developer announced plans to begin his next Solo project, what he is calling Solo East’s “sister project.”
“On this new project, what I'm trying to do specifically is emulate what Mayor Barry wants to do. She wanted to require developers to give 15 percent of every project and dedicate it to affordable homes,” McNeilage said. “That was apparently squashed in the state government, so I am voluntarily doing exactly what she tried to get passed, and that's delivering a quality project while setting aside 15 percent of the units to make them very affordable.”
The new Solo project, for which McNeilage would not yet disclose a location, will be comprised of 110 units with high-end features, including wood floors and granite countertops. Fifteen percent of the units will go for $99,000, McNeilage said, while the rest will start at $199,000.
According to McNeilage, even the units beginning at $199,000 will be the lowest priced new condos available in Davidson County by 20 to 50 percent.
“We have to keep people in the urban core,” the developer said. “If you go to college and you're a teacher, a nurse or a cop, and if can't afford housing, that's the absolute death of the American dream. If you have a good credit rate and have saved some money but you still can't participate in the American dream, that is bordering on a crisis.”
Harris expressed pride that Nashville government and its development community are coming together to address the issue.
For the first time, she said, Metro-owned property is being used to develop housing through a partnership with Elmington Capital Group. A city lease agreement will make 138 workforce housing units available in the Edgehill neighborhood.
“While we are working on these initiatives, we also want to make sure that we are addressing the need. We are hoping to have a comprehensive housing plan completed by late spring,” Harris said.
McNeilage acknowledged that the affordable housing hurdle is very high. He said the cost of housing is outpacing wages at a staggering pace.
“Every month and year that goes by, people can afford less and less,” McNeilage said. “If they don't own a house today, it's almost going to be impossible for them to own a house tomorrow or next year.”