Transit and Affordability Taskforce presents final recommendations to Mayor Barry

Mayor Barry with council members at December announcement of filing legislation for the Transit Plan in December 2017.

The Mayor’s Transit and Affordability Taskforce, led by former Mayor Bill Purcell and Davidson County Clerk Brenda Wynn, has delivered recommendations to Mayor Megan Barry on how Nashville can develop policies and programs to support small businesses and cost-burdened residents along proposed high-capacity transit corridors.

“The commitment of these taskforce members to our people and our neighborhoods, like that of our mayor, is unquestioned,” said Purcell. “There was broad consensus to the procedural and substantive proposals made. While there was not unanimous agreement on all specific ways in which to achieve our goals, the Taskforce believes that by the time this transit program is fully implemented, the need for affordable housing in our city must be fully met. We know this will not be accomplished by new transit-oriented development districts or the transit plan alone, but we all agree these recommendations will serve as an essential component.”

The taskforce met repeatedly over the course of two months to research potential issues and best practices. Barry’s charge to them was to produce recommendations to ensure any proposed expansion of Nashville’s transit system would not result in the displacement of local small or minority-owned businesses and low-to-moderate-income residents. Taskforce membership was comprised of small business owners currently located along high-capacity corridors, affordable housing advocates, financial experts, and philanthropic, academic and community leaders.

“These are incredibly exciting and critical times in the life of our city,” said Clerk Wynn. “If we continue to work together in the spirit of this Taskforce as the transit program is implemented, we have every reason to believe that Nashville can become an even more livable city by meeting all of our current and future citizens’ needs.”

Following a kickoff meeting on November 8, the Taskforce divided its membership into three subject-specific subcommittees with appointed chairs for each: Small Business; Neighbor-hoods and Preservation of Housing; Development and Finance. Each subcommittee researched and developed a list of strategies around each of these policy focus areas (many having been successfully deployed in other U.S. cities with rail transit systems), which were then organized and compiled as a broad set of recommendations to city leaders and the public at-large.

“Over the course of a 15-year program to build transit infrastructure and beyond, market conditions and our city’s needs may shift and change — but we can put processes in place to ensure those changes result in an equitable, affordable city,” said Councilmember At-large Bob Mendes, who chaired the Neighborhoods and Preservation of Housing subcommittee for the Taskforce. “Our recommendations, coupled with policies that promote affordable and workforce housing development throughout Davidson County, will help us move toward our goal of ensuring residents are not cost-burdened due to a lack of housing options.”

The recommendations in the final report are divided into five focus areas: Community Outreach and Education; Guidance on Transit-Oriented Developments; Greater Government Alignment and Resilience; Funding; and Private-Public Partnerships.

Some of the recommendations include the creation of a dedicated public funding source to support the affordable, transit-supportive housing and commercial space; development a reliable annual scorecard to measure progress; and having transit corridors link to greenways and parks where possible.

“’Let’s Move Nashville’ doesn’t just consist of light rail projects. These are positive economic and community development projects with rail lines running through them,” said Barry.

“If we’re going to be an equitable, diverse, and inclusive city, we can’t sacrifice transit or affordable real estate for one over the other—we need both. These recommendations provide a solid ground upon which to build as we tackle the challenges facing a majority of American cities: how to grow and prosper without displacing our most vulnerable residents and businesses. I’m incredibly grateful for the leadership and dedication shown by this Taskforce. I look forward to working with Metro Council, MDHA, state officials, and others on ways to implement these important recommendations.”

PAC opposes city transportation plan
A new group has come out in opposition to the Mayor’s transit plan. Originally estimated at $5.2 billion, some opponents are claiming that the cost of the city’s light rail program is now estimated to be around $9 billion.

“And that’s before one shovel of dirt has been turned. If passed, this ill-conceived plan will mean everyone in Nashville will pay the highest sales tax of any city in the country,” said representatives of the NoTax4Tracks PAC, an opposition group to the transportation plan. “And, the worst part is this plan won’t fix traffic congestion.”

“We waited to hear if the plan was workable. It’s not. We waited to see if the funding was fair. It’s not. We waited to see if the Metro Council would ask critical questions. They haven’t. So, the time to wait is over.” said Melissa Smithson, who supports NoTax4Tracks PAC. “We must now say this is the wrong plan at the wrong time and people should vote no. Those who can least afford it will pay the highest sales tax in the nation for a plan that will not help them with traffic congestion.”

The group has raised other issues of concerns with the city’s plan including the lack of regional financial participation and the fear that construction of rail lines may adversely affect tourism.