Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bid to stop an affordable housing development and take away property rights advances.

Everyone likes affordable housing in the abstract but they don't want it their back yard.  Affordable housing has been a battle cry of Mayor Megan Barry, numerous council members, liberal pressure groups and advocates.  Saying you are for affordable housing is almost as popular as saying you are for clean air and water. It kind of ranks up there with being in favor of apple pie, motherhood, and sidewalks.

A planned 96-unit affordable apartment complex for the Antioch area is being opposed by perhaps the Council's most vocal advocate of affordable housing. The project itself is in Councilman Karen Johnson's district and she is trying to stop it. Karen Johnson has reached her annual limit on how many amendments to Planed Unit Developments she can propose, so the bill to attempt to stop the project is being sponsored by Councilman Fabian Bedne who chairs the council's Ad Hoc Committee for Affordable Housing.

The proposed project is currently allowed under the area's present zoning.  The ordinance backed by Johnson, sponsored by Bedne, would down zone the property so that only single family homes could be build on the property.  That would constitute a "taking."  The city does not actually have to confiscate your property and take title to be guilty of "taking."  If the current rights you have to something with your property are diminished then you have had your property rights taken away.  There is a stronger case that the city has taken your property rights if you have already exercised  those rights, that is if you already have a vested interest in the project under current zoning; if  you have already spend money toward a project and the city kills the project, then you have a strong case that your property has been taken.  By the time someone gets as far as having a site plan and arranging financing for a project they may have already spent ten's of thousands of dollars on the project. In my view, taking property without a public purpose and without compensating the owner is wrong and immoral.  If the city is going to down zone any property then the owner should be compensated for the loss of value caused by the down zoning.  In this case, if the property is down zoned, the owners will likely have a winnable lawsuit against the city.

developer of the property has been awarded $11 million dollars in low-income tax credits by the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency (THDA).  This awards are made on a competitive basis. Not everyone who wants these credits gets them.  THDA Executive Director Ralph Perrey is obviously displeased that this project may be killed. He said that when the THDA board meets in July, they may look at changing guidelines in rewarding these tax credits if this project is stopped. He said the board could opt to reduce the maximum number of low-income tax credits that could go to Nashville moving forward, among other possible actions.  At the same time that Nashville is trying to encourage more affordable housing, losing lon-income tax credits would be a serious blow.

“What concerns us in this instance is we gave tax credits to a place that was properly zoned a year ago, and this is an attempt to zone that place out from under the developer whom we’ve given the tax credits,” Perrey told the Tennessean. “If that succeeds, we will essentially have wasted an award of tax credits that we could have put to work in Greenville, Johnson City, Jackson, any number of other places,” he said. “And at that point, it raises some troubling questions for us, and then we and the board would be obliged to consider: Does it make sense to send tax credits that’s going to waste it in that matter?”

While I think council members should do the right thing and not take someone's property without a public purpose and compensation, I do understand the pressure on a council member to try to be responsive to their constituents.  Trying to be responsive to the desires of constituents however does not justify trampling on someone else's rights.

There are three issues at play in this situation, ones is property rights, the other is good zoning, and the other is how to develop affordable housing.  The argument against the project, other than we don't want more poor people in our neighborhood, is that it will lead to a greater concentration of poverty which proponents of killing the project says would violate the Fair Housing Act. There are already a couple other tax credit properties in the area. That argument is not persuasive to THDA's Ralph Perrey who said the proposed development is "not remotely comparable" to developments that were in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Tracey McCartney, executive director of Tennessee Fair Housing is not buying the argument either, in fact saying stopping the project may violate the Fair Housing Act because many of the potential residents of the project will be African-American.

The proposed project is targeted for people who make  60% of the area median income.  The project will not be income-based in that rent will be calculated off of a person's income, but rents will be set to be affordable for a person earning 60% of  the area median income. So, for a single mother with two children and no child support or other income, she would have to earn about $37,000 a year. Projects of this type have been shown not to contribute to crime.  These developments are not public housing. They will not be an eyesore. The people who live in this units will be people who work for a living.

From a zoning standpoint, the current zoning conforms to the general plan which calls for high density housing along major corridors.  This also simply makes good planning sense. If Nashville is to ever have good mass transit, we need greater density along major routes. On Thursday, the Planning Commission disapproved the down zoning request.  A disapproved bill must get 27 positive votes to pass the Council. This bill has 29 co-sponsors. Hopefully, some of the sponsors will have a change of heart now that the bill has been disapproved. This ought to be fun to watch. It is always fun to watch someone talk out of both sides of their mouth and watch the process of trying to square a circle. It should be interesting to watch an advocate for affordable housing, make an argument for killing an affordable housing project.

I hope this bill fails. It is wrong to take someones property without a public purpose and compensation and if we really believe in affordable housing we have to allow it to be built.

For more on this issue see, Antioch affordable housing project could get killed, and Bid to block Antioch affordable housing project disapproved

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