In Music City, Rents Keep Going Up And Up (James Fraser, National Public Radio)

In a report on Morning Edition on NPR I was interviewed about the state of housing in Nashville, Tennessee. In the city most of the real estate development is geared toward higher-income households creating a lack of affordable housing. As the rental and homeowner markets in much of the city are going up real wages for many Nashvillians are not. This has squeezed many people out of the urban core pushing them into first ring suburbs.

Click on the title to hear the entire story on NPR.

Nashvillians should have the right to stay put - Tennessean OpEd

The recent NashvilleNext community survey revealed “affordable living” tops Nashvillians’ concerns for the future, and data suggests these fears are not unwarranted.

There are approximately 259,000 households in Nashville, and almost one third of these do not earn enough to afford the market rate housing available in our city. That means that each month, nearly a third of all households make difficult decisions between paying for housing and meeting other basic needs.

Decisive leadership and research-based policy solutions are critically needed to support equitable and inclusive development for all.

As Nashville enjoys its “It City” status, the demand for urban living has pushed housing prices up and out of reach for many low and moderate-income residents. Take the 12th South neighborhood: Between 2000 and 2010, housing costs jumped 269 percent while the black population decreased by 58 percent.

Proponents argue that gentrification is transforming these inner-city neighborhoods from unhealthy areas of concentrated poverty into diverse mixed-income neighborhoods, yet what we find are growing enclaves of concentrated affluence. This not only affects current residents in inner-city neighborhoods, who are pushed out for upscale development, it forecloses the possibility that affordable housing options will ever be available in these newly revitalized areas.

Over time, gentrification reproduces economic and racial segregation. While the neighborhood schools, transit, services, and green space might improve, they only benefit those who can afford to live there. Without concrete tools to ensure affordable housing choices throughout Nashville, the city will continue to experience unjust segregation and more households will face a staggering cost burden, displacement and exclusion.

City officials can do something

Luckily, tools do exist, and across the country many local governments are using public policy to achieve equitable development. This means incorporating affordable housing as part of a holistic approach to improve the quality of life for residents of all incomes by also stimulating economic development, increasing access to family-supporting jobs, supporting local businesses, and improving educational access.

For example, the City of Austin recently passed a $65 million bond to provide assistance to low-income renters, homebuyers, and homeowners and to support affordable housing development, neighborhood and commercial revitalization, and small business incubation.

Other cities in our region, including Charlotte and Chicago, are increasing construction of affordable housing by offering cost-offsets/incentives to developers in return for their contributions to affordable housing. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, these cities have taken real steps to make affordable housing a reality for many families.

Support equitable Nashville

Public concern for affordable housing in Nashville is growing. Two groups, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope and A Voice for the Reduction of Poverty, are mobilizing thousands of people to demand our government officials take immediate action to build, preserve and retain affordable housing throughout the city. If you care about building a city where everyone belongs, we urge you to join these efforts and make it clear that our government must act now.

Market forces will not create housing choice throughout communities, produce or preserve affordable housing, or protect vulnerable residents. These tasks require government intervention and citizen support. If we do nothing, we have made the choice to continue to promote racial and economic segregation. If we act now, we can create vibrant neighborhoods where residents of all incomes can thrive.

For more information, see our report on equitable development that was commissioned by Nashville’s Metro Planning Department at NashvilleNext (

James Fraser, PhD, is associate professor of human and organizational development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development. Amie Thurber, MSW, is a doctoral student in human and organizational development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development.


Nashville Next and Neighborhood Meetings

Amie Thurber, Jyoti Gupta, Doug Perkins and I completed a report for Metro Planning in Nashville, Tenneessee, on gentrification and affordable housing policies to enact. The report will be linked soon, and we have done multiple presnetations for Nashville Next citywide.

See, for video of the citywide meeting with Dr. Fraser:


Dr. Fraser Cited in WNYC Flood Buyout Article

Bloomberg to Offer Own Sandy Buy-Out Plan, with a Twist


Weeks after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed buying out homeowners in flood-prone areas, the Bloomberg administration is indicating that it will offer a similar program. But the mayor’s program could differ in one significant way: the properties the city acquires could be turned over to someone else to be developed again.

Under Cuomo’s plan, the state would use $400 million in federal Sandy aid to acquire, at pre-Sandy prices, properties from owners who would prefer to move than rebuild in the flood plain. The land would be turned into open space for use as parks, wetlands, drainage or other purposes. The governor said he would start the buyouts in the Oakwood Beach area of Staten Island's East Shore.

In testimony at a City Council committee hearing Feb. 26, Brad Gair, the director of the city’s housing recovery office, said the Bloomberg administration is working on its own buyout program using federal Community Development Block Grant funding, $1.8 billion of which has been earmarked for the city so far. He said details, like how much money would be devoted to it, had yet to be worked out. But he added the city’s plan may not stipulate that the acquired properties be turned into open space.

“If there is one element that we have not yet come to full alignment on,” Gair said, “it’s whether properties acquired should be made permanently open space or whether some of those would be suitable for redevelopment—preferably for the home owners in the area.”

It was the first time that a member of the Bloomberg administration said publicly that buyouts would be an important part of the city's relief package. Previously, Lauren Passalacqua, a City Hall spokeswoman, called buyouts "just one of many potential mitigation strategies."

At the City Council hearing, Gair said that even though one property owner may want to sell and move away from the 100-year-flood plain, other people would be willing to move there.

“These are valuable properties,” he said. “There is a limited amount of coastline properties.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been funding similar types of buyouts in flood prone areas for 20 years. But whenever FEMA buys out a property, it requires the land be set aside permanently for open space.

James Fraser, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, says the requirement protects taxpayers from having to pay twice for the same property: to buy it out, and then again later, if it gets flooded.

“When a locality continues to develop in a flood plains, they are not only putting themselves at risk,” Fraser, who has researched FEMA buyouts, said. “They are putting the nation at risk because financially FEMA has to pay for future flooding.”

Mayor Bloomberg has suggested that modern construction methods, such as elevating homes above the 100-year-flood level, will make them sufficiently flood-proof for the future. Fraser says modern rebuilding helps, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem.

“You still have impervious surface and that impervious surface is going to contribute to the amount of flooding that’s experienced in the surrounding area,” he said.

In a follow-up interview, Peter Spencer, a spokesman for the city’s housing recovery office, said that the city’s program would not be bound by FEMA's restrictions against redeveloping bought-out properties because the Community Development Block Grant money comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He added that allowing a resident to buy a property adjacent to his own, and which otherwise would be turned into open space, could alleviate the so-called “jack-o’-lantern effect” that some people worry will result if some, but not all, homeowners on a street otherwise sell their properties to the government. (A similar program in New Orleans allows people to renovate the structure on the adjacent lot and rent it out as long as that is permitted by zoning regulations.)

“There are some areas where perhaps it makes no sense to build on again,” Spencer said. “In other areas, the current owner may not have the desire or the means to rebuild, but there could be others who do want to. This certainly could be a way to rethink these communities and re-plan these communities and make them better."

If the city pursues its buyout plan, it would have to get permission from the federal government. Guidelines released Friday said any acquired property “could not typically be redeveloped.” But they do allow for some exceptions if the buyout price is based on the post-disaster value of the land and if additional aid to the property owner is given for relocation assistance.