Legislation creating the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing will begin moving through the Metro Council this week, after Mayor Karl Dean announced the initiative in his State of Metro speech last month.
The council is set to take the first of three votes on the proposal Tuesday night.
Named after Edgehill Methodist Church founding pastor and longtime affordable housing advocate Rev. Bill Barnes, the fund would target households earning less than 80 percent of the Department of Housing and Urban Development area median income (currently $26,800 for a single-person household). The Dean administration has said they expect the fund to add some 300 affordable housing units each year.
Along with the trust fund, which will be established with about $3 million from existing grants, the ordinance will create the Metro Housing Trust Fund Commission that will oversee it. The seven-member commission will consist of one member designated by the Metro Development and Housing Agency, one member from the council designated by the vice mayor, and five members appointed by the mayor. Mayor-appointed commission members will serve five-year terms, while the council’s representative on the commission will serve for two years at a time.
The commission will award grants to fund “renovation or construction of affordable homeownership and rental opportunities, project-based rental assistance, and other supportive efforts to encourage affordability” according to information previously provided by the mayor’s office. The ordinance states that specific criteria for awarding the grants will be established by the commission and approved by the council.
The mayor has said he expects the fund to be ongoing beyond its initial funding. Affordable housing trust funds in cities across the country have sustained similar programs by identifying a continuing, dedicated stream of funding from a current tax or fee, or by increasing one and directing those revenues to the fund. Mary E. Brooks, an advocate for housing trust funds nationwide and the project director at the Center for Community Change’s Housing Trust Fund Project, told the Nashville Scene last month that such a funding stream is “the idea behind housing trust funds.”
But the mayor said he envisions feeding the Barnes Fund by way of budget appropriations, citing, as Brooks did, the fact that winning approval for a dedicated funding stream can be quite difficult.
“Of course this is subject to change when I’m out of office,” Dean said, in a recent interview with The City Paper. “But what my plan would be for upcoming years would be to put money in the capital budget to fund it. You know, people, there’s — finding dedicated funded is — I mean, like a real dedicated funding source that goes specifically to one thing is really hard to do. And you can take it back to the transit discussion. If you say we want a certain percentage of some fee or tax right now, the resistance from the folks is going to be tremendous.”
Going on, he added, “I definitely assume it will put money in the capital budget next year to keep it going. I mean, it’s something we have to do, and I think it’s a good program.”