A group of concerned citizens led by Nashville Organized for Action and Hope held a protest and press conference Tuesday night outside of the Metro courthouse ahead of a city council meeting, asking for money cut from the Barnes Housing Trust Fund to be added back into the budget.
In 2019, the Barnes Housing Trust Fund awarded $9.8 million to 19 nonprofits. For the upcoming year, Mayor Cooper announced that he would cut the fund nearly in half, to $5 million dollars.
Cooper announced on Dec. 3 that his decision was in response to the "fiscal pressures" — mostly notably Davidson County’s 41.5 million budget deficit.
NOAH chairperson Rev. Edward Thompson said the city’s budget leans toward the “haves” rather than the “have nots.”
“This budget is not just a financial document,” Thompson said. “It’s more than that. It is a moral document. It should show the vision and the mission of a city that cares for the most vulnerable. The budget shows where Nashville’s priorities are.”
Lindsey Krinks, co-founder of nonprofit Open Table Nashville, says the funds allocated for affordable housing are only crumbs as it is.
“To cut it further is to dice the crumbs,” Krinks says. “We are no longer interested in the funds that fall from the table of Nashville’s prosperity. We are interested in our people having a place at the table of Nashville’s prosperity. We know housing is a human right.”
Organizations that have received funding from the Barnes include Urban Housing Solutions and Habitat for Humanity, organizations that regularly get people experiencing homelessness into housing. Wait lists for existing government housing are lengthy, and the fund helps there to be more options on the table.
New Level community development corporation was of the organizations that was originally approved by the Barnes fund to help build 51 townhomes for families, which would house over 200 people. Their project was one of the ones cut by the finance department. Executive director of New Level, Kay Bowers, said a meeting with the Cooper today gave reassurance that the land for the project could be saved, though nothing is in writing.
“When we were sitting in the Metro Council budget meeting, to hear that the funds were just impounded and that finance was hopeful that money would be restored later in the year just didn’t provide the degree of certainty that is needed for our organization, our bank partner, or our developer partner,” Bowers said. “It boils down to the fact that housing is not discretionary for people to survive … I look forward to the time very soon when housing is no longer a discretionary line item in our government’s budget, but that it occupies the position that it should significantly change the conditions that we find ourselves in today. ”
Councilmembers Freddy O’Connell of District 19, Delisha Porterfield of District 29 and Burkley Allen, at-large council member and chair of the ad-hoc affordable housing committee, all spoke. Each expressed that restoring the fund is a priority, and thanked the demonstrators for holding Metro accountable.
On Wednesday, Mayor's Office Press Secretary Chris Song put out a statement in regards to the protest.
“Mayor Cooper is working to balance this year’s budget with the goal of avoiding employee layoffs and interruptions to vital city services. The delay in part of the Barnes Fund grant round was a difficult decision made in order to plug the city’s $42 million budget gap and preventing state supervision of the city’s finances. The Mayor understands how deeply frustrating it is for both affordable housing developers and advocates. Simply put, we can’t write a check for money we currently don’t have. The city is working constantly to identify revenue sources to make sure we fund the delayed Barnes grants as soon as possible. Mayor Cooper is fully committed to making the Barnes Fund whole.”
What is the Barnes fund?
The goal of the Barnes Housing Trust Fund is to create or preserve affordable housing options in Davidson County. This money goes to nonprofit housing developers for things like renovation or construction. On top of that, the Barnes fund donates Metro-owned properties to affordable housing developers.
In order to apply for these funds, the rental properties need to be affordable for families who make at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income, and homes for ownership need to be affordable for families who make at or below 80 percent of the area median income. For a family of four in Davidson County, 60 percent of the AMI is $48,000 and 80 percent of the AMI comes out to $64,000.
The fund began under Mayor Karl Dean and is Metro Nashville’s first housing trust fund. It was named after Rev. Bill Barnes, a longtime affordable housing and civil rights advocate. Barnes died in September of 2017.
In that time, $37 million in Barnes funds and $186 million in leveraged federal and private funds have constructed more than 1,700 affordable housing units.