NASHVILLE, TN – The 2ndAnnual People’s State of Metro did not begin with a color guard and a choir performance. Angelique Johnson, an organizer with Music City Riders United (MCRU), got right to the point:” What do we want?” “No cuts!” “When do we want it?” “Now,” chanted the crowd. WeGo, aka MTA, has plans to cut Metro’s bus routes and MCRU wants them expanded.
If Mayor David Briley is the city’s biggest booster, the people of PATHE, the People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing, and Employment, are probably its biggest knockers.
“I have a spoiler alert for you. Nashville will keep growing. In just the last year more than 8600 new jobs have been announced by leading companies across this country. In just the first quarter of this year Metro issued $1.4 Billion worth of building permits. That’s $330 million more than the highest quarter we have ever had before,” Briley said in his State of the City address last month.
More of the same is bad news, according to the people of PATHE, who are challenging the conventional wisdom and unabashed boosterism that animates the Mayor and the City Council.
“The challenge now is managing that growth and protecting this great city,” Briley told his audience. PATHE says Nashville’s building boom is like the Wild West. Pay is low, jobs are unsafe, and people die doing construction work here for lack of safety training and worker protections.
“Another spoiler alert. While some people might seek attention by saying otherwise, the truth is, our credit rating remains high, the average wage in Nashville is growing faster than in all but three other big cities, our revenues are up by 4%, crime is down in nearly every category, and 15 million people visited our city in 2018. They all came back last weekend as well,” Briley joked about the NFL draft that tied up Broadway for nearly a week.
“People want to be here and our city is better off as a result,” Briley said. PATHE says that people want to live here but can’t because of City Hall’s misplaced priorities. Those two starkly opposing views animated speakers at the People’s State of the City last week at the Beech Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Bordeaux.
Lindsay Krinks and Howard Allen of Open Table Nashville, a non-profit that works with the homeless, gave a grim accounting. “Last December we buried over 127 people who died on Nashville streets. That was the highest count we have ever had,” said Krinks. She says she’s buried a lot of friends in the 12 years she has worked at Open Table.
“I could have been one of those people,” said Howard Allen. He lost a kidney while homeless in Nashville. “We just had a big thing last week with NFL. How that affected my brothers and sisters who need affordable housing is where they went to get a shower off the street. It’s called the jail,” Allen said.
Krinks disputed Metro’s latest Point-in-Time Count (PIT) of the homeless. Last year’s tally of people living on the street was 2,298. This year the PIT count was 1,986, a decrease of 312 people.
“They claim that we’ve seen a 14% decrease in homelessness which is ridiculous,” said Krinks. She said the real number is somewhere around 20,000. “We’re missing so many people. It doesn’t count the people who are doubling up, or living in bug-infested hotels, or living in their storage units with their children or in their cars,” Krinks said.
She said a lot of Nashville’s homeless have moved out to satellite cities like Antioch, Donelson, or Madison. Open Table has gotten calls from nearby counties whose homeless populations are increasing. Krinks concludes they’ve been pushed out of Nashville and are no longer Metro’s problem.
Krinks likened Metro’s affordable housing policy to a mean-spirited game of musical chairs. The stock of affordable housing once had a surplus of 2,000 units. By 2015 it had a deficit of 18,000 units. By 2025 it will be 31,000 in the hole. “The last time Section 8 opened its waiting list, 14,000 households applied,” Krinks said. She called it “a wheel of surprises” for most people but not the good kind.
“Housing should not be a commodity sold for profit and auctioned off to the highest bidder which is what happened after the Great Recession and now it’s happening with the rise of corporate landlords flipping apartment units and doing it for profit,” Krinks said. She said Metro needs a comprehensive plan because the Mayor’s Under One Roof plan is woefully insufficient to address the need. PATHE figures about 24,000 households will find no roof under the Mayor’s plan.
Amanda Kail spoke about the “Red for Ed” Metro teachers who have finally reached the end of their rope with lack of funding for Metro schools and no raises for its teachers. See (Sick and Tired, Teachers Stay Home, Tribune, May 4, 2019.)
“For years Metro Government officials have said “you know we really like to give you more money but we just don’t have the money’ and they do that over and over and over again. It’s just not acceptable,” Kail said. She called for people to contact their council member and come to the budget meeting on Thursday, May 16, at City Hall.
Sekou Franklin reported on the Community Oversight Board. He spoke about how much work was done to select the 9-member board including 40 videotaped interviews of candidates. He said the attack by the State Legislature on the ability of the COB to subpoena witnesses as well as restricting the board’s representation of underserved communities were setbacks but not the end of the fight. The city council can reinstitute the COB’s power to compel witness testimony and that is a priority.
Franklin called for a different approach to Public Safety infused with “the least of these” ethics. By that he meant about 40% of public safety dollars go to police, fire, jails, and office of the district attorney. Franklin envisions a broader approach to public safety with more money for human dignity, anti-racism, and social justice programs like the bail fund and restorative justice programs that currently get little financial support from the city.
Like PATHE advocates who want better jobs, housing, and buses, Franklin warned against relying too much on public officials but said with enough pressure they can be part of the solution.
“The only way we can make change in this city is through grassroots popular resistance. I guarantee if we do that some of those elected officials will support us,” he said.