NASHVILLE, TN –Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), the faith-based community action group, wants Mayor John Cooper and the Metro Council to “choose right over wrong, justice over injustice, and prosperity over poverty.” That’s how Rev Edward Thompson put it in a ZOOM Town Hall meeting last week.

“NOAH strongly support a moral budget,” Thompson said. He was joined on the call by 47 others including District 2 Councilwoman Kyonzté Toombs. She chairs Metro’s Budget & Finance Committee.

“For the most part, there is a lot of good stuff in the Mayor’s proposed budget,” Toombs said. “It fully funds the schools, there’s money for Metro employees. There’s a lot of investment in terms of staffing for the different departments,” Toombs said.

But she said there are still some things council members would like to be included.  “I’m going to take the things council members have submitted and use that to create my substitute budget,” Toombs said. A substitute budget requires 21 council votes to override Cooper’s proposed budget.

Metro Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 1, at the Music City Center at 6:30 PM. Residents can speak to the council about the Mayor’s proposed FY2022 budget.

Affordable Housing Tops the List

NOAH has a wish list for city officials. For affordable housing, it includes $30 million/yr. for three years to fund the Barnes Housing Trust. The Mayor has called for $12.5 million with a possible additional $10 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to create a Catalyst Housing Fund.

Such a fund is a good idea. It would give non-profit builders access to capital to buy properties as soon as they come on the market. But it’s not enough, according Kay Bowers, executive director of New Level, a non-profit builder of affordable homes.

“We are woefully behind other peer cities like Austin, Denver Charlotte, and San Antonio,” Bowers said. Charlotte and Austin invest in affordable housing with $100 million bond programs. Nashville doesn’t have one.

Cooper has proposed adding two fulltime housing positions inside the Planning Department. NOAH wants a separate department with five fulltime staffers and a $1 million budget.

“We must move to a coordinated housing system… with policy and program experts who both understand the severity of our housing crisis and who can strategically direct the resources needed to adequately respond to it,” Bowers said.

She said Nashville needs a long-term plan and doesn’t have one. Cooper intends to spend $500,000 creating a strategic housing plan. But according to Bowers, other cities like Charlotte spent three times that much and they “relied on comprehensive community engagement, resulting in major community support.”

“This crisis calls for bold investment that moves beyond small tactical steps and what we’ve heard for too long…’a good start, a good first step, a down payment toward helping solve our housing challenges’,” she said.

New Mental Health Crisis Intervention Program Proposed

Shawn Whitsell wants Metro to fund a pilot program in every MNPD precinct to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

“There won’t be any sirens or flashing lights or firearms or handcuffs or anything that could mean more trauma to the person in crisis,” Whitsell said.

Instead of uniformed police officers, a mental health expert and a medic would respond to calls in a van equipped with equipment and medicine. MNPD would be ready to respond if backup was needed. That’s better and more cost-effective than a law enforcement model.

“We are asking for this type of pilot program to operate as a model and provide proof that such a program would work better than those which bring armed officers and handcuffs to a mental health crisis,” said Reverend Jane Boren.

NOAH Asks for Higher Wages

Maura-Lee Albert chairs NOAH’s Economic Equity and Jobs Task Force. She applauded the Metro Council for passing a $15/hr. minimum wage for Metro employees last year.

“But it is the bare minimum for an adult to survive but we want more than survive. We want our sisters and brothers to thrive in this city,” said Maura-Lee Albert.

She wants Metro Council to add $6.2 million for raises for city employees. She called on city leaders to hold companies accountable to pay their workers better “from top to bottom”.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) request short $5 million

According to Reverend Troy Merritt, Jr. the Metro Board of Education wanted to ask for $5.8 million for advocacy centers and SEL specialists for lower grades and $2 million for restorative practice assistance in Metro high schools.

“These items were going to be part of MNPS’s request to Mayor Cooper,” Merritt said.

MNPS only asked for a slice of the pie, according to Merritt. In the State of Metro speech to the council on April 29, Cooper said he was going to boost school funding by $81 million and give Metro teachers an average pay raise of about $7,000.

“For the first time in a generation, we are fully funding the School Board’s budget request,” Cooper said.

“The impression was a huge investment ($2.5 million) in SEL but it is merely one third of what we need,” Merritt said.

“When any of our children experience challenging emotions at school, he or she should have a caring adult and a safe place to go to,” he said.