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No. 426: Redefining the Family

No. 426: Redefining the Family

⁂ Nashville's Alt-Daily ⁂ Nuclear Family · Zoning · Mayoral Candidate · Bluegrass · Much More!

From Megan Podsiedlik

A bill sponsored by Councilmember Sean Parker was passed on second reading back in January but has since been deferred a total of four times. The bill,  BL2022-1471, outlines dwelling occupancy in Nashville. Specifically, the term family is redefined in order to shift the number of unrelated people who can live in one “dwelling unit.”

The current language defines family as the following:

  1. An individual
  2. Two or more people related by blood, marriage, or law
  3. Up to three unrelated people/groups living together

Parker’s bill would increase the number of unrelated people who can live together from three to seven.

Affordable housing has always been an issue for college students, young adults, and struggling families in Nashville. In the past, shacking up together was the obvious solution to these issues, but lately, Metro has been delivering eviction notices to households violating the rule of three.

While this seems to be an attempt to prevent evictions during a recession, redefining the term family has left many councilmembers with a sense of unease. On the floor, Metro Development Manager Lisa Milligan clarified: “Based on state law, and based on our current definition of family, recovery homes are typically covered by the ADA—American Disabilities Act—so that would be covered by that definition of eight unrelated individuals.”

Milligan was addressing whether the legislation affected halfway houses. Legislation already exists making allowances for up to eight unrelated people to live together, which suggests that the council could draft legislation to address the problem directly instead of changing the definition of what comprises a family.


“This is something that we’re seeing take place, actually, quite frequently now across the country,” said Milligan. “This is the trend— as, sort of, the way people are cohabitating is changing a bit. There is a bit of a trend in this direction to actually reconsider what we think about when we think about a family.” Indeed, it only takes a quick search to find similar proposals in Colorado, New York, Wisconsin. . . the list goes on.

In Texas, The College Station City Council addressed the issue of “Aggie shacks”—i.e.,  stealth dorms for housing college students—by carving out select areas of the town which would permit more than four unrelated people to live together. While going over Nashville's bill, Parker hesitated to reiterate what local news outlets had published prior to the council meeting: the legislation was in response to collegiate housing issues, among other things. Despite this, questions still hung in the air last night at the courthouse.

The committees assigned to this legislation declined to submit opinions on the bill during original reviews because of “a lack of information”. As the committees prepare to go over the bill and its recently filed amendments before final reading, the question remains: Why is this issue being remedied by a blanket proposal— effectively redefining the term family for all dwellings—rather than by alternative legislation similar to what was passed in College Station?


While it’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of these various, countrywide zoning proposals taking aim at the definition of family, academia is a likely source. Kate Redburn (they/them), a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, wrote a piece called “Zoned Out: How Zoning Law Undermines Family Law's Functional Turn.”

Published in the Yale Law Journal in 2019, the paper argues against the “archaic” definition of the term family. Here is an excerpt taken from Redburn’s abstract:

A fatal conflict in the legal definition of family lurks at the intersection of family law and zoning law. Family law doctrines have increasingly embraced the claims of “functional families”—those whose bonds can be traced to cohabitation and shared domestic life. At the same time, zoning laws have narrowed to recognize only formal families, effectively restricting residency to individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

BL2022-1471 is up for a third and final reading after a one-meeting deferral.


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