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A new poll quantifies Nashville’s concern for COVID-19 yet finds it greatly pales in comparison to the concern for affordable housing.

Affordable housing not only overshadowed COVID but proved to be the top priority over jobs and wages, crime and public safety, public education, property taxes, infrastructure and homelessness. The concern cut across demographic groups: 50 percent of women, 52 percent of Black residents and 52 percent of residents between the ages of 18 and 34 ranked housing first among their concerns. It ranked among the top three issues for 73 percent of renters in Nashville — 47 percent of whom also included property taxes in their top three.

The poll was published as part of Embold Research’s opinion research omnibus, which is a collection of quantitative data presentations and surveys. Embold — the nonpartisan, apolitical arm of California-based polling data firm Change Research — surveyed about 720 adult Nashvillians online from May 6 to May 14. Its survey has a 4.4 percent margin of error and compared results to those of a national survey of some 940 adults between March 18 and March 30.

The Embold poll found Nashvillians to be “significantly more concerned [about housing affordability] than the rest of the nation,” with 79 percent of them showing “serious concerns” as opposed to 59 percent of American adults. Almost three-quarters of Nashville respondents favor low-income housing in their own neighborhoods as a defense against the rising cost of living; 90 percent reportedly support the development of middle-income housing in their neighborhoods.

Embold's poll results arrive shortly after Mayor John Cooper outlined a miscellany of initiatives in his State of Metro Address to “more than triple” Nashville’s investment in affordable housing through an amalgam of municipal spending and federal expenditure from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Cooper outlined a five-pronged, $37.5 million plan framed in part by recommendations from the newly established Affordable Housing Task Force.

The first of those recommendations has already materialized as Metro Council approved nearly $9.4 million in Barnes Housing Trust Fund grants (buttressed by an additional $250,000 from the Regions Foundation) to nonprofit organizations for housing Nashville’s most vulnerable demographics. This would be the first round of a total $30 million the mayor’s budget proposal aims to earmark in the Barnes Fund for affordable housing. Metro Council approved those grants, however, but deadlocked on Councilmember Zulfat Suara’s proposal to reserve 20 percent of the Fund’s coffers for nonprofits whose operating budgets range from $1 million to $4 million.

“Community challenges demand community solutions, and Nashville’s affordable housing needs are urgent,” Mayor Cooper said on May 13 when he announced the creation of the Landlord Risk Mitigation Fund as another affordable housing option to inch closer to his commitment to tripling affordable housing dollars.

The Council also approved a proposal, similarly co-sponsored by Suara, to put a swathe of residential properties under an overlay to allow them to build so-called detached accessory dwelling units. Also known as outbuildings, DADUs are seen by many as an affordable and environmentally conservative means of adding housing to existing lots, including for renters.

Metro Nashville Property Assessor Vivian Wilhoite said in late April of the 2021 Reappraisal that property values have seen “significant changes” since the 2017 Reappraisal, and Davidson County’s certified tax rate is reaching historic lows. Wilhoite’s office found countywide median property value to have increased 34 percent since 2017.

Increased property values are a hallmark of gentrification, which often displaces low-income families. Gentrification concerns have grown in parts of East Nashville following the formal announcement that Oracle will build a large campus on the East Bank of the Cumberland River downtown. Industrial Development Board Member Winnie Forrester and StandUP Nashville Executive Director Odessa Kelly, among others, have noted that nearby neighborhoods are particularly at risk.

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