Transit/Affordability Taskforce – 2 Months Later

Transit is about more than trains and buses. It is also about how high-capacity transit corridors will interact with neighbors, residents, and existing small businesses. Last fall, the Mayor appointed a Transit & Affordability Taskforce to address these issues. The taskforce’s final report and recommendations came out on January 10, 2018. You can find it here.

I promised the housing advocates on the taskforce that I would help with after-the-fact accountability.

Fortunately, there was always going to be an early opportunity for Metro to implement the recommendations. In the next few Council meetings, the Council will see legislation to create a Transit-Oriented Redevelopment District (or “TOD”) in Donelson. I have seen a draft of the written redevelopment plan, which has already been approved by the MDHA board, and I have seen an early draft of the legislation.

This Donelson TOD is critically important. It will be used as a template for transit-oriented development on every major transit corridor in Nashville. The administration and transit planners intend for there to be a TOD district along every transit corridor and at every major transit hub. The long-term transit plan expressly intends to use TOD districts to capture a portion of increasing property taxes to pay for the necessary major infrastructure and to spur private development along the transit corridors. So while the referendum has not yet passed, this Donelson TOD will lay the groundwork for how transit-related development will work throughout the city.

This is a good time to take a first look at how Metro is doing with some of the taskforce recommendations. I will list some of the recommendations and describe the status of implementing the recommendation:

Recommendation: “Full neighborhood assessment of affordable housing stock and housing-related wrap-around services before transit development begins…This pre-transit development assessment must not be limited to just the 0.25 miles on either side of the corridor. Instead, the assessment must take into account typical neighborhood boundaries.”

Status: No action taken.

Recommendation: After conducting the full neighborhood assessment of affordable housing, firm goals for preserving and creating affordably housing units should be established: “Once there is enough information, firm goals should be established. All policies and tools must work in concert to achieve these minimum numbers.”

Status: No action taken. No goals for the number of affordable unit to preserve and build have been set.

Recommendation: “For funding and building affordable housing in TODs, Metro and MDHA should seek to reduce or eliminate the current structure where there are two separate decision-making tracks – one with Metro and one with MDHA.”

Status: No action taken. This is a big deal. In existing economic redevelopment districts (like around Rolling Mill Hill), MDHA has the full power to set the level of affordable housing (even 0%) for each building getting tax increment financing in the district. These districts last for 30 years, and Metro has no say on issues like this during the 30 years. Remember that MDHA is not part of the Metro government (because it is created separately under state law) and does not have to listen to the Mayor or the Council when deciding on the level of affordability to require in a building. As the train is leaving the station on transit-oriented development, we need a new model about how Metro and MDHA work together to make sure Metro gets the final say on how these things will work on our transit corridors over the next 30 years.  (This is not a knock on any of the people in and around MDHA or its board. My objection here is about the process. MDHA is simply not a part of the Metro government, and its board is not elected. It doesn’t make sense to hand over so much final decision-making to an outside authority for all of the real estate around all of the important transit hubs on all of our transit corridors for multiple decades. We can do better than that.)

Recommendation: “In advance of the anticipated May 2018 transit referendum, Metro should make a public statement committing to the timely creation of a community land bank and community land trust, describing the timeline for creating these, and describing anticipated funding levels.”

Status: No action taken regarding a community land bank. For a community land trust, the administration has said that one will be funded in fiscal year 2020. No information has been provided about a funding amount.

Recommendation: “A resounding recommendation from all committees was the need for a dedicated public funding source for both affordable transit-related housing and small business space development and support. The new public funding should be an amount equivalent to at least 2% of the expected capital project costs for the Let’s Move Nashville program (which is proposed to be approximately $5.4B in 2017 uninflated dollars). This new resource should be designed so that each dollar of public funding is leveraged with other funding sources with a goal of a 3:1 leverage ratio. This is in addition to any pre-existing levels of affordable housing funding, and also in addition to any financing funded by tax increment financing (TIF).”

Status: No action taken. No information has been provided about accomplishing this goal.

Recommendation: Because we are trying to build housing stock along transit corridors for Nashville residents and not visitors, the recommendation was: “No investor-owned (Types 2 and 3) short-term rentals in TODs.”

Status: No action taken. This restriction isn’t in any of the documents I have seen so far. (And, yes, it would be legal for Metro to withhold permission there to be short-term rentals in projects that are funded by our property tax dollars through tax increment financing.)

I recognize that there are powerful forces pushing all of us on the referendum. This post isn’t meant to comment on that. My goal is to provide some early feedback that Metro is not yet doing what it will take to succeed in maintaining and building our neighborhoods and meaningful affordable housing around transit development.

I also recognize that it is only a few months since the Mayor’ taskforce released its recommendation to her. But life is coming at Nashville fast, and we can’t afford to be wait. The legislation for the Donelson TOD is still being pushed forward. I hope the administration can find the time and resources to implement these recommendations.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.