Jan 31, 2024 - News

Nashville's plan to fix the middle-class housing crisis

Illustration of a small house with different large hands all reaching out to grab it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Seeking to address a housing crisis for the middle class, Metro Council members filed a swath of legislation in recent days to ease government regulations and loosen zoning requirements.

Why it matters: The cost of buying a house in Nashville has become prohibitive for many middle-class people.

  • Taken together, the batch of legislation represents one of the more ambitious policy proposals to come out of the council in recent years. Metro Council members Quin Evans Segall and Rollin Horton are leading the charge.

The big picture: The problem is pervasive in similarly situated and growing cities like Tampa, Raleigh and Austin. Evans Segall says the government should be doing its part to address the issue.

  • The measures aim to curb regulatory barriers from the Codes Department and change zoning laws to allow for more density inside Nashville's urban neighborhoods.

What she's saying: Evans Segall tells Axios she filed her legislation with nurses, teachers, firefighters, government workers and journalists in mind. She calls the lack of housing for those residents "the missing middle."

  • "We need to make sure we're building homes for everybody, and right now that's illegal in a lot of Nashville," she says. "At the same time, we need to make sure the process is streamlined.
  • "We found in looking at this, there are administrative hurdles that take up time but do not functionally change the substance of the code."

Details: All nine pieces of legislation will be posted on a website called Music City Homes, which was paid for by Evans Segall.

  • The overarching goal is to increase density by allowing more three- and four-unit residential buildings on lots in the city's urban areas. One bill allows residential uses in all commercial districts.
  • Several bills clarify the section of city laws related to codes regulations and planning requirements to cut the red tape developers face when pursuing their projects.

Yes, but: Neighbors often oppose projects that tear down a single-family home and replace it with tall-and-skinny duplexes. Mindful of that, the plan calls for design standards to ensure new buildings fit within the character of a neighborhood.

Reality check: Neighborhood groups carry immense clout in Nashville, and it stands to reason the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) movement will be leery of increasing density in residential areas.

  • Evans Segall says she hasn't received feedback on the proposals from Mayor Freddie O'Connell's administration.

"People are nervous when it comes to change," Evans Segall says. "That's normal. I'm nervous when it comes to change."

  • "But when we talk about it in terms of helping people and our neighborhoods, I've found that people who I assumed might be opposed to gentle density increases actually understand the intent of it."
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