By EMILY R. WEST
Perhaps one of the more difficult problems to solve, state House candidates looked at the issues surrounding affordable housing Tuesday morning.
Throughout this election cycle, most of the candidates have noted they would like to see more of Williamson educators and first responders live where they work. All four of the contested candidates between District 63 and District 65 shared where they stood at WAKM 950 AM’s Coffee and Conversation.
The price tag for housing is also growing steeper. Right now, Williamson County has one of the highest median home prices in the state at $438,039.
And the high prices, coupled with a lack of inventory, have started driving would-be buyers out of Williamson. The Middle Tennessee counties in the top half for increased sales in September were counties in the lower half in terms of median home price.
District 63 incumbent Glen Casada (R-Thompson’s Station) has taken some opposition to his new law, which eliminates inclusionary zoning mandates on developers. His new law went into affect after 2016 legislative session.
But here’s what he said:
The genesis of that bill was six different business came to me. Government mandates drive up the cost of housing. And their point to me was if you make it profitable so the free market can make a profit you can avoid that problem. If you want to solve affordable housing in any community, you take off the regulations and increase the number of houses you can build. Take government out of the equation, and you can fix affordable housing.
If you try where government is the solution, it escalates the price. For our income bracket, we are one of the most affordable places to live in comparison to what we make. You put these mandates on, and the developers will leave and make housing more scarce. Government is not, nor ever has been, the solution.
His Democratic opponent Courtenay Rogers has taken affordable housing up as one of her primary issues. In September, she held a forum on affordable housing, gathering round a table several in Franklin and Williamson County who have tried to better champion the issue.
She said she Casada were on two different sides of the spectrum when it came to solving the issue.
Glen Casada and I are in two separate lanes. His is in gridlock, and he’s sitting idle. He’s looking the rear view mirror. I am in the lane with the innovators and the problem solvers. We need affordable housing in the lane moving forward. There are so many solutions that are our officials have brought forward. We have a mayor with a housing commission and housing summits. Then we have a state representative and annuls what our officials have put forward.
We have people who can’t afford to retire here. They can’t afford to to downsize. The market isn’t responsive to all buyers. We have to get the politics out of affordable housing.
In District 65, the issue has been a bit quieter. Though inside the lines sits the unresolved Hill project. Three nonprofits came throughout the last year, proposing to buy city property that once housed the City of Franklin Water Department and Fleet Maintenance.
Property appraisals place the value from $1.82 to $2.55 million. The elevated property just north of Sonic above a retaining wall along Hillsboro Road offers one of the remaining birds-eye views into downtown and over Bicentennial Park. And with the corridor still under construction, city leaders will review a resolution that will defer any decision on the property.
In knocking doors both candidates – Republican Sam Whitson and Democrat Holly McCall – said they hear about the issue, but not as much as they do transportation.
McCall said she saw value in the project, but it wasn’t going to completely solve Franklin’s affordable housing issues.
I think it’s a great project. It’s not a whole solution, but it’s a good first step. We do have to find a way to make it economically work. That’s an expensive piece of land and we have to get a fair market value. I am not an economist, but I don’t think the city should donate that. But I think it’s a great first to our affordable housing issue.
With affordable housing, there’s no silver bullet to fixing that. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan created the Affordable Housing Credit Act. And Congress has the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2016 that expands on the 1986 act. It would create or preserve 400,000 affordable housing units. It will expand housing credits, and one of the good things about that is that it needs local and state approval. Right now, it’s all government intruding or all private market. There’s a role with government and local control. It’s not going to happen overnight. There’s no right or left. There’s a middle solution.
Whitson said he wanted to lead on the issue, depending on how the local mayors felt in his district. He agreed that he liked the Franklin project, but wanted an overall consensus from local officials before doing anything at the state level.
There’s a lot of friction anytime you try to do something on this magnitude. The city has their land use plan, and there’s conflict where this is located.
There’s conflict [about affordable housing], and it’s not only at the state level but at the local level. We have to work together. My biggest fear is that one day some company is going to decide to come here and they won’t be able to find a place for their folks to work.
We have to make sure that it’s done in a way we encourage companies to move here, but that it encourages the free market economy with some government involvement to make that happen.
I made a commitment early on, and I pledged each mayor and county mayor that I will consult with them to support their goals and initiatives.
Comments from the candidates are in the order interviewed by WAKM 950 AM live.