Monday, March 23, 2015

RE: Lack of Affordable Housing in Nashville ... and What To Do About It?

Two weeks ago in the Nashville Scene, reporter Abby White asked "Everyone knows Nashville is hurting for Affordable Housing. What are we going to do about it?

Like she stated in the article, some people think when they hear "affordable housing" that it means Section 8 and living in The Projects, but affordable housing is not just about being that close to or under the poverty line. It's also about just being an average person who doesn't want to live paycheck to paycheck because they're paying half of their monthly income for their rent or mortgage. The average person is the retail worker, the cop, the teacher, the fireman, the state employee; even entrepreneurs running their own small business -- who are also aiming to employ others -- is an average person around here in Nashville.

So how do we make/keep housing affordable? Well, here's a terribly unromantic, boringly practical approach: we have to address and examine 1) our greed as Developers and the 2) our lust as Homebuyers and Renters to indulge in buying things that we maybe just can't afford.

Now while I don't begrudge a person's right to make money, nor a person's desire to have their dream home, I do question the practicality of developers adding "luxury amenities" I didn't ask for, don't need, and really don't like. Why do I need to pay $500++ more a month for those things if I don't actually want them? I have plenty other things to spend that money on. I want a well-built, functional home that is not silly in sales price -- and that means scaling back on what is truly optional.

I also question the practicality of home owners wanting and adding "luxury amenities" when they can't afford them. Too often luxury finishes like the huge square footage to nowhere, excessively expensive kitchen appliances and countertops or enormous spa bathrooms with marble countertops (no, really, does anyone notice how easily marble stains?? It's great for a statue, but stupid used as a countertop. This is not a rock made for work surfaces!) while a huge selling point, also kick the selling price up far too much. I guess the problem is people are doing the buying anyway! How many do that because they've been taught or they have learned or are convinced they just HAVE to have this?

Why have we (and when did we) become so afraid to tell ourselves "No, we really can't afford that, and it's okay." The "Keeping up With the Joneses" is so mainstream now it's invisible -- and it's hurting all of us.

So while these luxury finishes are all beautiful and would be ideal to have, they're truly not necessary. We have to admit some luxury finishes push owning a home out of the realistic and comfortably achievable price range. And it leaves no margin for error left in the budget on the part of the buyer. Yes, it's kindof a chicken and egg situation, but it's one where an individual on both sides needs to make the choice to stop and reel it in.

We need to be supportive of developers who don't build crazy luxury but who also DON'T build subpar crap housing -- because somehow some of them think if it's not luxury, then it's not worth it. Then they go cheap -- so cheap that they hire incompetents who don't know that the plumbing under the sink actually needs the trap, for example, or that maybe they really should want to level the plate to the electrical switch when they screw it in, just so they look like they know what they're doing.

I'm sure there's a reasonable compromise people maybe have been avoiding because there's too much opportunity -- and it's just easier -- to make more $.

Developers have to stop making houses so big that 3 families can live in the square footage but it's supposed to be a house for just 4 people. That's crazy. I dunno about you, but I don't need to be heating the second floor of a 2-story foyer, where no one actually enjoys the warmth. I'm sorry. I know. I know it's a gorgeous sight to see the sweep of the stairwell or have a 20 foot high curtain! Let's finally admit it's just impractical for the average person to pay to heat a 2-story anything when you can't actually use that floorless square footage up in the 2nd floor air. Yes, it's beautiful, but I just have to make the choice to leave that 2-story open space to public spaces, because I don't like the electric bill that it entails and burdens on a family.

So how do we make Housing Affordable? Can we encourage those who can build housing to please build more nicely beautiful but simpler houses that regular people can live in? Can we encourage folks to maybe not go into crazy debt just to own a home?

Part of the wonderfulness of home buying is buying a house you can afford and feel safe in, but you have the option of either adding onto it or buying a larger one later. The house doesn't have to be dream home perfect right now, because insisting on that, and straying outside our actual budget ultimately makes the home buying process harder for everyone else ... and that's a scary thing to admit. Because it means giving a bleep for the Joneses ... not just coveting their stuff.

It's okay that we all don't have celebrity salaries. It's nice to pay the bills and be able to afford groceries anytime and buy gas for the car and braces for the kids if they need them. It's nice to have and be a middle class, because the middle class does include business people and entrepreneurs. And it's nice to NOT pay half the month's salary on rent or mortgage, because that's just unreasonable math.

So I ask along with Ms. White: What are we going to do about Affordable Housing, Nashville?

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