I attended the NOAH sponsored mayoral "forum" yesterday at Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church. It was really not a forum. The candidates were only asked one question and that is if they would support the NOAH platform and commit to have quarterly meetings with NOAH to confer on the implementation of the platform. The speaker, from the podium with the candidate down front not having yet taken the stage, asked the question individually of each candidates. The speaker said only those who answered in the affirmative would be permitted to speak. All eight candidates answered "yes." The moderator did make clear that candidates where only agreeing to the goals and that how the goals may be implemented may differ. After answering "yes," the candidates were each given two minutes to elaborate. Two minutes is not much time. Candidates could not say much in two minutes.
The first hour and a half of the meeting was taken up by the presentation of the NOAH agenda. The presentation used skits, various speakers, and graphics and charts shown on electronic screens, and video. What could have been boring, was interesting. It moved along at a fast clip and was well done. There must have been 1500 people crowded into the sanctuary of the church with extra chairs put out and people standing in the halls and in addition there was an overflow crowd in the church gym.
If there was a winner of the forum, I would have to say it was Council member Megan Barry. I say Megan Barry "won," on the basis of applause. She hit the right buttons during her comments, touting her sponsorship of the Metro employee living wage bill and sprinkled her comments with other specific's showcasing her progressive bonafides. She got interrupted by applause and a rousing applause at the end.
Charles Robert Bone was the first of the candidates to speak and he got warm applause, so if there was a second place favorite, it may have been Bone. He quoted scripture in his two minutes. He may have only been so well received because he was first, however; it is hard to say. Frankly, I thought Bill Freeman gave one of the best answers of the evening, but he tried to get specific about the individual points of the three-plank platform and two minutes just did not allow time for him to develop his arguments. In addressing the issue of affordable housing, he said he had a long career in the housing industry and knew what developers wanted and what it would take to build affordable housing.
From my perspective, I thought Kenneth Eaton did pretty well saying he would lookout for the tax payer's interest. He said too much money was being put downtown at the expense of neglect of neighborhoods, which is something this audience would agree with.
I was surprised that Howard Gentry did not get a more rousing reception. The audience for the event was about half Black and it was held in a Black church in North Nashville. I thought Gentry, who is African-American, would have been a favorite. Gentry lost a point with me, when he said "a job is a right." This is routine ignorance or purposeful misuse of the language on the part of progressive who use the term "right" when they mean entitlement. Rights are innate liberties. The declaration of independence says we are "endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights." Free speech and the right to self defense are rights; if you think you are entitled to food, a house and a job, or healthcare that is a claim against another to provide you with something. It is not a liberty; is a claim to an entitlement. Despite that statement from Gentry, he only got moderate applause. None of the other candidates got more than moderate applause and their answers were kind of boring. None of the others said anything with which I strongly disagreed however. None of the others hurt themselves in my way of grading the campaign.
Here is the three-point platform to which all of the candidates answered "yes," that they would support:
Affordable housing: To preserve and produce affordable housing by enhancing the city's housing trust fund, developing inclusionary zoning, and using federal, state and local resources to prevent displacement.
Criminal justice: To reduce the jail population and the General Sessions Court docket by 50 percent by using alternatives to arrest and restorative justice measures.
Economic equity and jobs: To increase transparency on public project government incentives, to hire locally first and to attach community benefit measurements to projects in high-poverty areas.Since all of these are "goals" rather than concrete promises, I guess one could agree that these are worthy goals, knowing some of them are not achievable. So, I guess one could in good conscious answer "yes," and then conclude that the goal was simply not achievable should the candidate be elected. The only exception to this, is the pledge to support "developing inclusionary zoning." That is a specific means to achieving a goal of producing affordable housing.
Inclusionary zoning is a form of price fixing that says, for example, if a developer develops one hundred units of housing, maybe, 15 of them must be affordable to a certain income group, most often low or moderate income people. If Nashville had an inclusionary zoning policy that said 15% of new homes had to be set aside as "affordable" for a person making 60% of the area median income, then that would mean a family of four who could earn $46,000 and be able to afford one of the houses. "Affordable" means the house payment does not take more than 30% of the buyers income. Doing the math, $46K/12 x 31% = a house payment of $1188 a month. If 35% of the house payment is taxes, insurance and Mortgage Insurance Premium, then that leaves $772 a month for principle and interest. So, assuming the interest rate is 4%, that would support a house priced at about $160,000.
In order to keep the home "affordable", there is usually a deed restriction that says that if the owner sales the house, they must still keep it "affordable" for so many years. In practice this means the first buyer does not gain equity in the house. Unless area median income goes up considerably, the seller cannot raise the price of the house when he sales it. If interest rates do go up, as they surely will, then if the first owner wanted to sale the house after living in a few years, the house would have to sale for less than the first owner paid for it to keep it "affordable."
In a neighborhood of $550,000 homes the developer must build 15% of them for sale at $160,000 in the above example example. In a neighborhood of that price range home, the developed lot itself and infrastructure could be most of the $160,000. So, the owner must jack up the price of other homes to subsidized the affordable homes.
I can understand a candidate not wanting to be excluded from the forum and I can understand a candidate's inclination to say they agree to the platform while in actuality having reservations. However, if a candidate would have answered "no" and then issued a position paper explaining why he can not agree to inclusionary zoning, he would have scored a point with me. He might not have been elected mayor, but I could have voted for someone who I believed in instead of voting for the least objectionable candidate left standing.
For The Tennessean's report on the meeting last night, follow this link. For more on inclusionary zonings see this link, this link, and this.