More than 50 people spoke more than two hours Tuesday night about whether Metro should require more developers to set aside apartments at low rents, a policy that’s been in the works for more than a year. It's known as inclusionary zoning.
The hotly contested affordable housing proposal will likely be amended after the Metro Council’s longest public hearing of the year.
Those in favor of the rules include religious leaders, labor unions, the firefighters association and nonprofits.
“Throughout Nashville’s development boom, the cost of living has risen much faster than wages,” said Vonda McDaniel, president of the Nashville Central Labor Council. “Firefighters, police officers, Metro employees, are being priced out of our county. The musicians and stagehands and actors who have made this Music City should be able to live in this city that they made famous.”
In addition to the familiar faces speaking in favor of the new housing rules, a surprise appearance came from best-selling novelist Rebecca Wells, author of “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”
Wells said she got her start living in rent-controlled housing and now finds Nashville in urgent need of affordability.
“Look at the spirit of a town. We utterly lose if we don’t have the diversity and the mix of people, of colors, of tasks, of incomes, and we create a place where money is really the driving force,” she said. “It’s not a perfect (proposal), but we’re at a juncture. We’re crossing a threshold now, and if we don’t do something now, it will be too late and it will break our hearts.”
Those opposed to inclusionary zoning were far outnumbered. But they represent large groups like the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the trade associations for apartment owners and developers, and realtors.
Those groups have continued to meet with the bill’s sponsors to request amendments. They say the proposal wouldn’t create many affordable units, while scaring away developers and unsettling lenders.
“In its current form, the chamber cannot support the (bill),” said Jennifer Carlat, with the chamber of commerce. “We understand some of these changes will be made ... however, our three primary concerns are still outstanding.”
Councilwoman Burkley Allen said Tuesday she would entertain amendments. The council advanced her bill one step, but agreed to postpone a final vote until September.