Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Folly of HB1632/SB1636

Josh Stites
by Josh Stites - In my four years on the Council I was considered a reliable conservative vote. But, it always bothered me when people assumed they knew how I would vote simply because an issue was declared “right” or “left”. In our culture of sound bites and snap judgments, consideration of every possible alternative is considered by many a weakness. But, I think the poverty-laced inclusionary zoning discussion is just one of these issues that doesn’t fit nicely into any box. For those who want background on the issue in Nashville you can go here, here, or here.

This week legislation was introduced on the state level to prohibit any local government from enacting legislation requiring inclusionary zoning. I’m not opposed to the state stepping into local affairs when it’s necessary to maintain a cohesive statewide business environment or protect citizens from harmful actions of a local government, but I think HB1632 passes neither of these tests. HB1632 is simply a Williamson County representative’s response to a small number of his financial supporters who themselves have a business interest in the zoning laws in Nashville. I get that and it’s nothing new. It happens across the aisle and at all levels of government. But, that doesn’t make it right or a good idea.

But my frustration is that Casada uses free market reasoning for his bill. I’m a big free market guy. And I agree that the free market could fix our affordable housing problem. Quickly. But, to those who have ever tried developing land or building anything in any big city, they know that land development does not happen in a free market. On the contrary it is a tightly controlled market by unelected but often well-meaning bureaucrats at the local planning departmentand the political and sometimes not well-meaning appointees of the Planning Commission. State law doesn’t just permit such meddling into the free market of local real estate - it requires it in Title 13, Chapter 4 of the state code. Each planning department, by state law, is required to create a general plan every ten years or so. This general plan serves as the tool by which planning departments dictate where a developer can build housing and what type of housing can be built. If Casada really wants to champion free markets, sponsor a bill prohibiting zoning. It’s worked well for Houston.

In Nashville the current plan (Nashville Next) generally calls for affordable and workforce housing to be concentrated in pockets along the major corridors of Nashville. Think: Murfreesboro Road, Lebanon Pike, Charlotte Ave, Dickerson Pike, Franklin Road, West End Avenue, Hillsboro Road. I’m not a class warfare conspiracist, but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the number of affordable units built along Hillsboro Pike and West End in the next decade won’t be enough to house the workers required for one downtown hotel. This “free” market that Casada hides behind in defense of his bill is anything but. It’s law already that the local government has the authority to dictate where affordable housing units are to be built, why all of a sudden does he care how many?

And the head scratcher for me is this; when affordable housing is torn down to make way for newer more expensive homes or other uses, where do those people needing affordable housing go? They move to where the affordable houses are - that is gradually further and further from the urban core and ultimately out past the county line. Developers who don’t want to contend with the burdensome regulations and requirements of the Metro Planning Commission are going to go to where land is cheap. So all the suburb representatives and senators, including Senator Haile of Sumner who is sponsor of SB1636, should be delighted that Metro wants to keep the poverty associated with affordable housing in Davidson County.

Advocates of IZ make a convincing case that the worst thing for someone growing up in poverty is to be around more people in poverty. Therefore, concentrating all of the poverty in certain areas by way of mandating the small areas where affordable housing exists is truly an institutionalized disservice to the least among us. The poor we will always have with us, but how we treat them and the opportunities we give them to advance says a lot about our character. And if you want to read more about that you can go here, here or here.

While I have a different view and am pleased to see legislation introduced that would ban mandatory inclusionary zoning, I am pleased to present an alternative point view from my friend, former Councilman Josh Stites. Rod 

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1 comment:

  1. I have never given money to Glen Casada, nor do I own a business interest in Davidson County. However, I support a ban on inclusionary zoning.