Franklin’s need for affordable housing continues

The Village
The Village at West Main Street is one of a few examples of affordable housing in the Franklin area. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Village at West Main Street is one of a few examples of affordable housing in the Franklin area. (Alex Hosey/Community Impact Newspaper)

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City Administrator Eric Stuckey said that in his 11 years with the city of Franklin, providing attainable housing for residents has always been a main topic of conversation in the community.

“I think it’s always been an issue,” Stuckey said. “In a way, we are victims of our own success, in that real estate values continue to climb, and while that has a lot of positives, that can also be challenging in terms of providing housing that aligns with the workforce in our community.”

Stuckey said affordable housing has only gotten to be a larger issue during the last five years.

According to data released in December from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2014-18 five-year estimates, median home values in Franklin have risen by over 25%, while the median household income has risen by a little less than 20% in the same time period.

In a 2019 national citizen survey, residents listed housing affordability and attainability as the second-most important challenge facing Franklin today, while only a quarter of survey-takers rated the amount of affordable quality housing positively. Only about half were satisfied with housing options in the city.

“There’s a lot of need and demand [for affordable housing] when you look at the amount of jobs being created in the community,” Stuckey said. “My ideal would be that there’s a housing option for you from your first job out of college to when you’re raising a family to when you’re an empty nest to when you’re retired—and that you could live through all of that within your community.”

Growing prices

Over the past five years, the city of Franklin has experienced significant growth in several different statistical areas, including population, income levels, property values and the number of homes in the area.

The city’s population has risen by 16% to more than 75,000 residents in 2018, according to the ACS. With more demand for housing, Franklin’s median home price has risen from $307,800 in 2013 to $385,500 in 2018.

With such large growth came an increase in the number of residential developments. More than 3,400 new homes have been built within the city limits as large new residential development projects, such as Berry Farms, Westhaven and Lockwood Glenn, have been completed or are nearing completion.

Franklin Planning and Sustainability Director Emily Hunter said while the city tries to work with developers to provide a variety of price points in their residential business ventures, the majority of approved developments are not what she would consider attainable options for prospective residents with low to moderate incomes.

In this context, affordable housing is an umbrella for other terms, like attainable or workforce housing. This housing is intended for individuals making an income close to the median income for the Nashville metropolitan statistical area, according to definitions from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

According to HUD’s definition, households paying more than 30% of their income towards housing are considered cost-burdened and might have difficulty affording necessities, such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. According to the ACS, 20% of Franklin’s residents were cost-burdened in 2018.

While Franklin’s median household income is over $94,000, the average pay for commonly held jobs, such as teachers, police officers, firefighters and construction workers, is often much lower, with the starting salary for teachers in Williamson County at $40,150 and average salaries for police officers and firefighters in the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin Metropolitan Statistical Area at $50,150 and $40,070, respectively, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The disparity between the value of houses in the area and the salaries of so many jobs often translates to a larger population of workers commuting in and out of Franklin.

“The vast majority of our employees don’t live in Franklin,” Stuckey said. “[For] some, that may be a choice. [For] some, that’s just an economic reality. But that’s a positive for us to try to provide opportunities for those folks to live here if they choose to.”

Housing diversity

Stuckey and Hunter said there are many different avenues the city is exploring to address affordable housing, though their influence as a governmental body on an issue driven in large part by the private market is somewhat limited.

“It’s a business for the development side,” Hunter said. “As much as we try to promote housing variety and various price points, we don’t have a regulatory framework for inclusionary zoning or anything like that since it’s not allowed in the state. So, when it comes to development approval and things under our review, we try our best to encourage things like that, but it ultimately comes down to what the developer has planned.”

Stephen Murray, emeritus executive director of the Community Housing Partnership of Williamson County, a not-for-profit organization that works to provide quality affordable housing, such as the Village on West Main Street, said he believed the state legislature’s blocking of inclusionary zoning violated HUD’s Fair Housing Act.

“By their action, the [Tennessee legislature] are preventing housing being built for protected classes,” Murray said. “But who has the guts to sue the state of Tennessee?”

While the city is limited in its ability to demand from developers that a certain amount of new housing be affordable, it does have partnerships with other groups, including the CHPWC, and helps by offsetting certain fees and contributing to infrastructural needs to incentivize the creation of affordable housing.

“The policies that [the city of Franklin] has put in place to alleviate some of the burden are very helpful, and we utilize them on a regular basis,” CHPWC Executive Director Zabrina Gregg said, but she added that solving the shortage of affordable housing options is not the responsibility of just the government. “There has to be a diversity of resources; it can’t just be the local government. It has to be the community reinvesting for that purpose. It has to be developers who understand that a segment of [the] market should go to focus on the affordable and workforce housing.”

Walker Place, a condominium development project by the CHPWC, was approved by Franklin’s Planning Commission in July and will include over 200 units, with prices ranging from $194,000-$245,000.

In spite of increases in home values and the number of new multifamily complexes under construction in Franklin and Cool Springs, the majority of residents in the city still own their homes, according to the ACS. Between 2013 and 2018, the ratio of owners to renters has shifted by only about 1% in favor of renters.

While renting is often the alternative for those unable to buy a home, Hunter said apartment homes being built in the area are not necessarily a more affordable alternative.

“A lot of the new multifamily that’s been approved in Franklin is not necessarily at a workforce or affordable level,” Hunter said. “There are projects, like Wood Duck Court and one on West Main and Franklin Housing Authority projects, that have been approved that do meet that need, but they definitely aren’t the majority of what’s getting approved in terms of multifamily. While multifamily can provide housing diversity in Franklin, it doesn’t necessarily meet the need for a different price point.”

Stuckey said providing affordable housing at different price points for residents at different stages in their careers is vital to maintaining the city’s economic viability.

“This is an economic discussion, so we want to make sure that a variety of housing options are available within a reasonable distance to where the jobs are,” Stuckey said. “We’re an economic engine in the state of Tennessee, and we have to have that mindset.”

Wendy Sturges - Alex Hosey


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