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Answers From Candidates During 2023 Mayoral Forums

Answers from candidates during the first in the series of the Nashville mayoral debates hosted by NewsChannel 5 and sponsored by Belmont, the Tennessean, American Baptist College, and the League of Women Voters of Nashville.

Q: Where do you stand on affordable housing?

Freddie O’Connell made it clear that this is a top priority for his platform: “. . . We will use every toolkit in the Mayor’s office and Metro to build more affordable housing. We will focus on our residents.”

Jeff Yarbro: “. . . That is a critical question that I hear about on the campaign trail every day. . . We’re losing properties faster than we are creating affordable housing options that people can afford.” He offered a few solutions: 

  1. Preserve more housing by freezing property taxes for our elderly. (Worth noting: Metro just passed RS2023-2159, which increased the max income for eligibility for low-income elderly to apply for the Property Tax Freeze Program from $47,750 to $60,000.)
  2. Leveraging public property and Barnes Fund assets: “. . .To bring public sector, private sector, and nonprofits to the table the expand housing projects at a much faster rate.”
  3. Incentivising renters to become homeowners. He suggested down payments programs to assist public servants, such as teachers and cops. 

Alice Rolli started by pointing out that some of the affordability problem is a self-inflicted wound that can be fixed by simply undoing crippling policy: “. . . We made much of our most affordable housing less affordable when we raised our property taxes. We contributed to the housing burden and housing cost of our older housing stock, which is, by definition, more affordable.” She went on to list two more solutions. 

First, she suggested cutting some bureaucratic red tape and to implement the use of electronically filed housing permits to speed along the inspection process: Government. . .  is not able to keep up with the private sector. . . We’ve got housing stock sitting; can’t get inspected, can’t get opened. That is a supply and demand issue that continues to raise the housing prices.”

“The third is resetting the relationship with the state,” said Rolli. “THDA and home ownership programs are underutilized in our county and I think some of that is a failure of the relationship with the state. We have a significantly higher percentage of our. . . residents here that do not own their home.”

Vivian Wilhoite: “Let’s make clear, the tax rate in Davidson County is the second largest tax rate in Davidson County history. So, the tax rate is already low. Your value, in reference to your home, has appreciated and that’s what you want it to do.” Wilhoite went on to suggest a few solutions to create more affordable housing that included public-private partnerships starting with a study to figure out the exact need for affordable housing in Davidson, then making affordable housing “affordable for all” (or rather, equitable), and utilizing selective partnerships.

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Answers from the Phoenix Club’s mayoral forum, moderated by Nashville Banner reporters Demetria Kalodimos and Steve Cavendish.

Kalodimos: “How do you plan to help Nashville manage growth in the next few years?”

Freddie O’Connell: “We just had the biggest opportunity to talk about whether or not we were going to have growth done to us, with us, for us— and we elected to put four billion dollars worth of investment into a city for people to visit. . . what Nashvillians want right now is more “ville” and less “vegas.”

Cavendish: “Overwhelmingly, Nashvillians say they want public education improved. As mayor, though, you’ll have limited tools at your disposal. What is something specific that your administration will do to help move the needle on education?”

Heidi Campbell: “The fact of the matter is, we do not fully fund public education in this state. . .the way this manifests is that we have winners and losers. The way to triage that inequity for a state that’s not going to be funding public education any time soon is with community school organizers. Community school organizers are single individuals that are hired for a school to build services around that school from the community through churches, non-profits, businesses. . . and find the support specifically for that school. . .so that school can achieve more success.”

Vivian Wilhoite: “What about teachers? Teachers need to be paid competitively. Their staff needs to be paid competitively. That is what’s missing right now. . . We need to competitively pay, and pay every year.”

Kalodimos: “In the last two years, how much have you used public transportation on a monthly basis? Do you think transit is effective for you to just ditch your car?”

Heidi Campbell: “We are very much an automobile city. We’re way behind in transit. . . My big project when I was the mayor of Oak Hill was to try to get a multimodal [form of transportation] down Franklin Pike, and it was a big education that you have to get buy-in from citizens first. You would have thought I was killing puppies. It was like a Williamson County School Board Meeting every day. . . We need bold vision.”

Vivian Wilhoite called for free bus passes, while Sharon Hurt called to completely get rid of scooters, regulate HOV lanes, and create flex bussing schedules.