As housing prices climbed in Nashville over the past decade, one part of town turned into a de facto hotbed for, affordable living: Antioch.
Though the suburban sprawl found in southeast Davidson County is certainly not an urban planner’s dream, the open land-turned-subdivisions off Interstate 24 fill a niche, offering families with modest incomes an opportunity to own a home.
The area’s appeal has led to dramatic growth. According to figures supplied by the Metro Planning Department, the huge swath of land known as Antioch, combined with the nearby Cane Ridge community, collectively grew by some 20,000 residents between 2000 and 2008. Such a spike is rivaled only by Bellevue.
Developers seized on the area — and overbuilt. When the well-documented housing crisis hit, Antioch was among the hardest hit. Today, a number of signs in the area encourage investors to bid on hundreds of bank-owned homes. Excavated land remains barren. Freshly built houses are unoccupied.
Antioch’s stretch of foreclosed properties has become the battleground for a classic developer vs. Metro councilman confrontation. The outcome could pull the plug on a proposal to turn vacant property into a pocket of affordable homes.
Longtime Nashville developer Bill Hostettler is looking to plant more than 20 houses that would sell at $119,900 a pop in an unfinished neighborhood that goes by the name Fawn Crossing, situated near Thomas Edison Elementary School on Mt. View Road.
But District 33 Councilman Robert Duvall, who represents the area, contends the vinyl materials and absence of garages of Hostettler’s homes don’t match the quality of the area. Their construction could hurt the neighborhood’s property values, he said, and he has proposed an urban design overlay for Fawn Crossing that would require houses to follow strict design standards — it would, in effect, foil Hostettler’s plan.
The overlay is scheduled to go before the Metro Planning Commission on Feb. 25.
Hostettler and others are convinced Duvall is concerned solely with the low price point of the homes. Duvall categorically denies the charge.
Either way, affordable housing advocates worry the rejection of low-priced options in Antioch could set a troubling precedent.
‘Not trying to drive price’
Hostettler, who works out of HND Realty, likes to point to his track record of development successes, which amounts to 1,300 units in Nashville over the last 10 years. Recent examples include 100 modestly sized houses along Normandy Circle in Sylvan Heights, and a 238-unit condo development off Eighth Avenue known as The Park at Melrose. Both are completely sold.
Hostettler spotted an opportunity at Antioch’s Fawn Crossing, where he recently took on five foreclosed homes, finished their construction and sold them. Hostettler’s next step was to turn the neighborhood’s remaining 21 available properties into a row of 1,300-square foot, one-story houses. His company nearly finished construction of two before running up against Duvall.
“Right now, we can’t build anymore,” Hostettler said. “He’s got us stopped.”
Hostettler said he conducted a market analysis of all houses within a one-mile radius of Fawn Crossing and found the average price of homes in the area is around $122,000. He’s priced his homes at $119,900, maintaining there’s a price ceiling for the demographics in the area. He said he’s just “meeting the market,” adding that if the homes were placed in trendier areas like Sylvan Park, they could go for nearly twice that figure.
“I’m trying to build a house where a single mom with one or two children making $30,000 a year will have an opportunity to buy a house,” Hostettler said. “But the councilman went crazy when we put the sign up. He said, ‘I’m going to stop you. You can’t sell houses that cheap out here.’ ”
Duvall, who has lived in the area since 1985, said he’s not concerned with the price of the homes as much as he is with their design and building materials.
“I’m not trying to drive price,” Duvall said.
The idea behind the urban design overlay is to make sure Fawn Crossing houses are on par with those in nearby subdivisions, which have partial brick and stone exteriors. Duvall said he is considering how to apply the overlay to other foreclosed subdivisions.
Several neighbors have contacted him to share similar concerns, Duvall said. He was set to hold a community meeting on the topic Saturday (after The City Paper went to press).
“What Bill has proposed is small homes with no garages, all vinyl,” Duvall said. “It just takes away from the intent and integrity of the community. Now, whether he can sell them? Yeah, I’m sure he can sell them. But that doesn’t help anybody who already lives there, does it? It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
Affordable housing too scarce?
Following the will of constituents is nothing new for council members when it comes to land and zoning disputes. In fact, it is the one civic arena where members have considerable individual power.
Still, Duvall’s resistance disappoints Nashvillians dedicated to affordable housing options.
Cathie Dodd, executive director of the Woodbine Community Organization, helps low-income families become mortgage-ready before placing clients in housing they can afford. She said she was “really excited” about the houses Hostettler had proposed and called stopping their construction “a very dangerous thing to do.”
“You want people in neighborhoods,” Dodd said. “A mom and dad with one child, or a professional single parent with two children, where are they going to go?”
After speaking with Duvall, Dodd — like Hostettler — came away thinking the councilman was objecting to the price point of the houses. “I talked to him once, and he was opposing the price point,” she said. “That’s what I heard him say.”
Dodd said building houses that would sell for more just isn’t viable right now. “Have you been to Antioch lately?” she said. “If Bill builds, say, houses at $160,000, would there be a group of people who would come there? In this environment, I would say probably not.”
Moreover, during a recent drive through the neighborhood, Dodd said she compared Hostettler’s homes to others in the area and had a hard time telling them apart. “They’re a group of mixed houses that you couldn’t pick out necessarily why one was priced less than the other,” she said.
Loretta Owens, executive director of The Housing Fund, a Nashville-based nonprofit that offers lending options to first-time homebuyers, said the houses proposed by Hostettler “seem like an ideal price range, especially for these economic times.”
“The people who earn $35,000 or less make up a whole lot of us,” Owens said. “And so it’s important for them to have opportunities. Anything that limits those opportunities, I would not be that much in favor of.”
Tracey McCartney, executive director of the Tennessee Fair Housing Council — a nonprofit organization that seeks to eliminate housing discrimination — said she doesn’t know enough about Duvall’s proposed overlay standards to calculate how much it will drive up the prices of the homes.
“We’re definitely interested in monitoring any legislative effort that would have an impact on the development of affordable housing,” she said. “Anytime you stand in the way of the construction of affordable housing, that potentially raises some fair housing issues,” as outlined by the federal Fair Housing Act.
“When affordable housing is blocked in favor of more expensive housing, you get a number of people who suffer disproportionately from that decision,” McCartney said.
Affordable homeownership, according to McCartney, has long been an issue in Nashville.
“We’re building a lot of high-end condos that aren’t selling to anybody,” she said. “I think building new houses that working class families can afford to buy is always a good thing. Homeownership is the way average people build wealth in this society.”