Mayor shares city’s efforts on poverty, race relations at town hall

Dec 01 2016
Posted by: Staff
Mayor shares city’s efforts on poverty, race relations at town hall

By: Amelia Ferrell Knisely

Mayor Megan Barry addressed Nashville’s pressing issues – poverty, homelessness and race relations – at a town hall style meeting Nov. 30 at The Temple (Congregation Ohabai Sholom). A packed room listened intently as the mayor reviewed her plans for increasing affordable housing, boosting economic opportunity, and improving relations between police and residents.

“We always ask, ‘What’s the problem and how are we going to solve it?’” Barry said, touting her administration’s success in increasing affordable housing and allocating $10 million to the city’s Barnes Affordable Housing Trust Fund – the largest amount ever allocated to the fund that offers incentives to developers who create or preserve affordable housing.

Barry also called on Nashvillians to adopt what she calls a “YIMB-ism” – or “yes in my backyard” – mentality that welcomes affordable housing into their neighborhoods.

“I thought it was nice to hear Mayor Barry speak about her hopes for helping the poor,” said James Brooks, an assistant university professor who attended the meeting. “I really appreciated her comments around mixed-income neighborhoods. It’s typically a very hard sell in any area, but she makes a good case for the importance of using it as one of many tools in combating concerns around poverty and education.”

Dr. Frank Boehm moderated the one-hour town hall. Barry shared some of Nashville’s harsh realities while speaking from what seemed to be a prepared speech and answering pre-selected questions. Among the litany of statistics: about 110,000 Davidson County residents live in poverty, and on any given night, 3,000 people in Nashville experience homelessness. Barry said there’s been an increase in family homelessness in the city, and approximately 800 school-aged children now stay in shelters, hotels or on the streets.

Barry did not share a detailed plan for helping homeless families, but noted that any help will require funding and called on the city’s not-for-profits to step up and assist.

When addressing race relations, Barry publicly referenced a recent Gideon’s Army report, “Driving While Black,” in which researchers produced data showing black drivers in Nashville are disproportionately policed. “I like to think Nashville is different, but would be foolish to think there isn’t disparity.”

She followed up by saying new police cadets will receive civil rights training at the library and additional training throughout their career with the department.

Barry announced at the end of October – and again at the town hall – that she’s committed to seeking the $12 million required to outfit Nashville’s police with body cameras.

Her response wasn’t enough for Samuel Lester, an advocate with Open Table Nashville. “We still haven’t heard in detail what her response is to the injustice of the biased policing that’s going on. It’s a systemic problem,” he said.

The town hall was void of any direct mention of president-elect Donald Trump, but the country’s post-election discord was referenced when Rabbi Mark Schiftan asked Barry if her role as mayor included “forcing those very difficult, hard conversations among the leadership ranks in Nashville.” Barry confirmed that it’s part of her position, and shared her desire to keep Nashville a welcoming place for all.

The event did not include time for public comments or questions. Barry used the rest of her time to touch on education, healthcare and the recently-approved nMotion plan that will overhaul the city’s transit system. While nMotion is set to make the changes over 25 years, Barry said one immediate change she will oversee is eliminating MTA transfer fees that burden the working poor.






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