Zulfat Suara on Barnes Fund grant substitute

Councilperson Zulfat Suara on Tuesday defended her proposed amendment to the administration of Barnes Fund grants.

Metro approval of almost $10 million from the Barnes Fund has put Mayor John Cooper closer to fulfilling his commitment to tripling affordable housing dollars.

The Barnes Housing Trust Fund, engineered in 2013 under the administration of Karl Dean, extends grants to nonprofits while leveraging various funding options to drum up affordable housing options for some of Nashville's most vulnerable residents. Since its origin, the fund has invested $54 million, leveraging another $360 million for 2,500 housing units.

Metro Council’s appropriation of $9.4 million constitutes the first round of Barnes Fund grants for fiscal 2022 and is being boosted by the Regions Foundation to the tune of $250,000. The mayor’s budget proposal, currently in front of Metro Council, accounts for over $30 million allocated to the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing and other concerns. It leverages the capital spending plan, inbound federal American Rescue Plan funds and the operating budget in which the proposal allots $3 million.

Relatedly, the Council is in a stalemate on a proposed amendment to Barnes Fund regulations — proposed by Councilmember Zulfat Suara, who also sits on the Affordable Housing Task Force — that would mandate 20 percent of Barnes Fund grant money be reserved for nonprofits with operating budgets of $1 million to $4 million. The measure on Tuesday received 16 votes for and 16 against with one abstention. Vice Mayor Jim Shulman voted to break the tie in favor of voting again at the body's next meeting.

The latest grants are allocated for seven projects that each build multiple units. The largest of those projects come from nonprofit rehabilitation agency Samaritan Recovery Community; minority-demographic, affordable housing firm Woodbine Community Organization and Nashville’s biggest nonprofit affordable housing developer, Urban Housing Solutions.

Samaritan Recovery Community will develop 195 mixed-income housing units on Shelby Avenue and South Fourth Street with $2 million. With the same amount, both South Nashville and West Nashville will see Woodbine Community Organization similarly build a total of 67 new units on Elysian Fields Road and 40th Avenue North, respectively. Urban Housing Solutions is using $2 million to redevelop mixed-income Mercury Courts on Murfreesboro Pike, which the Cooper Administration hopes will spark further redevelopment in the area.

Habitat for Humanity will receive a little under $2 million to aid in the construction of homes for 32 families around Brick Church Pike. Local nonprofit Affordable Housing Resources has purposed spending $784,300 to finish the Lanier Park Townhomes in Madison near Neelys Bend Road, which will add 31 units for first-time home buyers and seniors downsizing.

Mending Hearts Inc., a women’s rehabilitation organization, has also received a grant, about $374,400, to sustain eight women through transitional living and related services. Be A Helping Hand Foundation likewise received $249,000 to provide two, four-bedroom units for rent for single mothers.

Barnes grants account for only a third of the $30 million the Cooper team wants budgeted for affordable housing. An equal amount was committed in Cooper’s State of Metro address for a new Catalyst Housing Fund while the remainder is to be distributed throughout the development of affordable housing on segments of 24th Avenue North owned by the city and a tax incentive program the administration describes as being aimed at coaxing private-sector developers into affordable housing construction.

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