Protecting Our Seniors
Every day across Nashville, our seniors are facing new challenges. As our city gains new residents and our rapid growth continues, our seniors, especially those on a fixed income, struggle to keep up. Nashville’s cost-of-living has skyrocketed along with our growth, and our city’s housing market is ground zero. With a projected shortage of 31,000 units of middle and low-income housing by 2025, we’re already in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Bus routes are being cut, and fares are being increased for Access rides. Sidewalks continue to be neglected, and food programs for seniors have been removed from Metro. But this isn’t Nashville’s future. By coming together, we can ensure that Nashville remains an affordable city where our seniors can live, thrive, and enjoy a high quality of life.
PROTECTING LONG-TIME RESIDENTS
Protections from Predatory Developers
One of the most concerning things I hear about as I travel around the city is the way our long-time residents, many of whom are seniors living on fixed incomes, are preyed upon by developers. If they reject repeated offers to purchase their homes, the residents are told they are not wanted in the neighborhood and repeatedly harassed until they finally sell. When they agree to sell, they are not told that the money they are receiving for their home will not be enough to buy another home in Nashville or even cover their rent for an extended period of time. This is resulting in the mass displacement of seniors from our neighborhoods. We cannot allow our seniors and long-time residents to continue to be treated this way. I will work with the Metro Council to create protections for long-time homeowners and seniors from predatory developers.
Property Tax Relief and Tax-Freeze Programs
Seniors 65 and older who want to remain in their homes have several options to assist them when it comes to property taxes – the state’s property tax relief program and Nashville’s tax-freeze programs. The latter program is an enduring legacy of the late Charlie Cardwell.
While serving in the state legislature, I have worked to create a more equitable formula for the property tax relief program to account for the high cost of living and the median family income in Davidson County. Currently, the threshold for an elderly homeowner to qualify for this program is $29,860 of combined household income, and this is the same in all 95 counties. This universal cap is unfair and simply too low for Nashville seniors. As mayor, I will continue my efforts to create a more equitable formula so that more elderly homeowners can benefit from this vital program.
To qualify for the property tax freeze program, the total household income cap for Nashville homeowners 65 and over is $41,660. While this is still too low, it covers more homeowners than the tax relief program. Anyone who has questions about either of these programs should contact Ms. Andrea Vaughn at the Metro Trustee’s Office at 615-862-6140.
Funding Affordable Housing
First, we need to adequately invest in the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing. Right now, the non-recurring annual revenues amount to $10 million, but this amount is contingent on the political whims of city leaders. As mayor, I would look to establish a dedicated revenue stream for the Barnes Fund to increase annual investment to $50 million over the next five years. This would result in a net increase in affordable housing stock across our city.
Next, we should be securing commitments for investments in affordable housing from corporations moving to our city. New companies bring jobs, but they also create more demand for housing. This creates issues for seniors who feel they are being pressured out of their homes or forced out by rising costs.
Building Affordable Housing
The biggest hurdle for both non-profit and private developers who focus on the development of affordable housing is the cost of land. To help address this, my administration will establish a land bank within the Department of Finance to increase transparency in the use and sale of surplus Metro property. The land bank will clean the title of properties and determine the best use for any land deemed surplus in a publicly transparent process. Priority will be given to the development of affordable housing. This will help facilitate the development of affordable housing and provide taxpayers a clearer picture of property transactions.
Additionally, my administration would further utilize the Community Land Trust to oversee development projects. This would also allow for increased transparency and the highest possible return on investment. Furthermore, we will work with Planning and Codes to fast-track the development of affordable housing units and streamline the process.
Improving Metro Services
An essential part of addressing the affordable housing crisis is improving Metro services for residents and developers of affordable housing. Residents should be able to gather information, find available units, and understand their rights in a more straightforward manner. Developers of affordable housing should benefit from a streamlined, efficient, and expedited permitting process at Planning and Codes.
My administration will establish a Mayor’s Office of Affordability to serve as a one-stop housing shop. This office will be run by someone who has extensive experience in the financing and development of housing. It will feature a centralized reporting system for vacancies, where individuals requiring housing can find up-to-date and accurate information about housing availability within Davidson County. This database would provide housing types, qualifications, and pricing, within an easy to use service to give users relevant and timely information about their options. The Office of Affordability would also work with Metro departments, as well as the private and non-profit sectors, to monitor the development and diversity of housing stock across Nashville.
Finally, I would create an Affordable Housing Task Force composed of individuals from the non-profit, faith-based, private development, and banking communities who are committed to financing and building affordable housing in Nashville. The group will be charged with crafting and implementing an overall strategy to end the affordable housing crisis. The task force will publish an annual “State of Affordable Housing Report” to provide a scorecard on the city’s progress and hold Metro government accountable.
Ensuring Fair and Equal Access to Housing
One prominent issue that too many senior residents face is housing discrimination due to their use of Section 8 vouchers. Last year alone, 39% of newly issued voucher holders in Nashville were unable to use those vouchers to find housing. This is an equity issue that has a devastating impact on seniors. As mayor, I would collaborate with the Metro Council to pass Source of Income protections to increase fair access to housing for Section 8 voucher holders, which includes low-income individuals, families, the elderly and the disabled. No one should be turned away because they possess a housing voucher, and a Clemmons administration will work to end all forms of housing discrimination in Nashville.
Taking a Holistic Approach to Affordability
Affordable housing in Nashville for seniors cannot be evaluated as a stand-alone issue separate and apart from transportation options, health care, and other issues. With this recognition, the affordability challenges facing our seniors must be addressed holistically, and any strategic plan to move our city forward in a more equitable manner must reflect this fact. For example, increasing housing density along major thoroughfares is vital to building a sustainable transit system, which in turn will relieve pressure on senior residents by doing away with their need for a car.
Ultimately, our goal, as a city, must be to increase affordability and services so that we can improve the quality of life of our seniors. Stable, affordable housing and access to healthcare and wraparound services can prevent individuals in their golden years from feeling stranded and alone.
Nashville seniors deserve a vision and a plan to address their unique transportation challenges. We must improve and expand our public transportation system in a manner that allows seniors to move in and around our city. Convenient access to mobility options is a crucial part of providing individuals with a good quality of life. The current administration’s cuts to our busing have created a real impediment to the mobility and freedom of Nashville seniors.
To date, we have failed to make the infrastructure improvements necessary to ensure that all residents can easily move in and around our city. To make progress, Metro government should enact short-term innovative solutions and technologies, while also working with residents and regional stakeholders to develop a long-term transportation plan. A regional consensus is essential to address our transit challenges and to prepare Nashville for the future.
Mayor’s Office of Mobility
To manage our city’s transit improvements, I will establish an Office of Mobility within the Mayor’s Office. Staff will be tasked with monitoring and executing traffic and transit management, and oversee a revenue-generating referendum within my first term. This office will work with WeGo, as well as the Departments of Public Works and Planning to increase efficiency, transparency, cross-departmental communication, and accountability when it comes to transportation-related policy decisions. The vision of this office will be to promote a more multimodal future for Nashville while ensuring both transit equity and pedestrian safety.
Short-Term Transportation Fixes
To address our traffic challenges, Nashville needs to invest in short-term, cost-effective solutions. This includes synchronized-timed traffic lights, implementation of transit management technology on all major thoroughfares, and the redesign of existing roadways so that pedestrians, cars, and buses can safely coexist. One of the most critical fixes, however, is increasing WeGo service. Thousands of residents, including seniors, rely on our city’s bus system, and we’ve ignored this issue for too long. We need to expand Access Ride and work to provide free or reduced-fare rides to those 65 and older. We must also work to enact 24-hour services lines that serve every part of Davidson County and implement decentralized bus routes so that riders don’t have to go through Downtown to get across the city. We need to look at implementing rapid service and transit signal priority, improving bus stop access, and develop a new electronic fare payment system. It’s time to make WeGo an option for everyone in Nashville.
Alleviating traffic also includes solving our parking problem. Metro needs to retain all revenue, and invest in smart parking technology to upgrade meters and develop tools that will make it easier to find and pay for parking. That includes stepping up enforcement of parking violations so that Metro can collect any outstanding fines which will then be reinvested in our transportation system. Our current parking infrastructure is decades out-of-date, and it’s time to build a system fit for a 21st-century city.
We also need to maximize the use of multimodal transportation options already available by implementing tools for wayfinding, transit location tracking, fare payments, and trip planning with real-time information about public and private options. The Mayor’s Office should lead efforts to establish public-private partnerships to integrate this data and create web and mobile apps for residents and visitors.
One of the more concerning things I have heard from individuals residing in several living facilities for retirees is that they don’t feel safe walking to and from their bus stop only a block away from their home. This is because of crime and because of a lack of safe sidewalks. We must make every neighborhood safer for our residents.
To make neighborhoods safer, we must address the significant staffing shortages currently being experienced by our police and fire departments. Currently, morale is low in the MNPD, and this is making retention and recruitment more difficult. To better protect our residents, we must tackle this issue head-on. Also, while we have experienced rapid growth and increased density, we have not increased the size of our public safety departments or added new precincts or firehalls. A greater presence of first responders working and living in our community would help make neighborhoods safer.
To better protect pedestrians, we should reduce speed limits and implement more traffic-calming measures such as roundabouts and speed bumps. These are relatively simple solutions, yet they’ve been reserved for affluent areas while other parts of Nashville are neglected. This is especially true when it comes to pedestrian infrastructure. If we’re serious about becoming a safer city, we need to ensure that every neighborhood has useable sidewalks and protected bike lanes. We must fund our sidewalk construction program with sufficient funds. It’s also essential that we implement the Vision Zero plan and complete the Impossible Crossings projects to eliminate fatalities and injuries.
Develop a Long-Term, Regional Solution
Short-term fixes to alleviate traffic are essential. But to truly solve our transportation challenges, we need to finally develop a long-term transportation infrastructure plan that will improve the quality of life of all residents. Within my first 100 days as mayor, my Office of Mobility will be tasked with developing a plan that will assert our position as a progressive, global city. This includes listening to residents to better understand the unique needs of every neighborhood and resident, as well as working with surrounding counties to build a system that will connect every community in Middle Tennessee. To get buy-in from county leaders, the state, and the federal government, Nashville needs to lead from the local level. This will require an equitable and data-driven transit plan, a dedicated source of funding secured through a voter referendum, and a mayor who will always fight to do what’s right for working families.
ADULT CARE FOOD PROGRAM
During a recent meeting at Dandridge Towers, I first learned of the issues around our adult care food program. I subsequently learned of similar concerns in other senior living facilities in Nashville. This year, the administration cut the budget for this program by $79,000, which is the equivalent of a Metro employee’s salary and related expenses that were covered by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. Due to this budgetary cut, volunteers will be responsible for overseeing this vital program to feed seniors, rather than a Metro employee. Those relying on and benefiting from the program are concerned that volunteers will not be as accountable as Metro for their well-being. Metro should have filled in this shortfall to ensure that our seniors receive this vital food program.
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