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What If the City Were Your Landlord?

Nashville is looking for fresh ways to deal with its lack of affordable housing. And its newest idea uses a $25 million loan to rehab, buy or build new housing. It sounds straightforward, but there’s one catch: The city has to stay on and manage the units. 

In recent years, the solution to a city’s affordable housing crisis has been to hand it off private developers — luring them in with local and federal tax credits. But this new concept is one that puts units back into the hands of the local government.

I have mixed feelings about this. I definitely think we need more affordable housing. But “government housing” has not always turned out so great, since it makes pockets of poor people and, historically, it’s been ugly and uninviting.

The daunting truth is that we don’t need affordable housing. We need affordable neighborhoods. A place with $750 rent but no nearby grocery store isn’t really helping. And the housing needs to be near bus routes and parks and schools.

When I think of the kinds of places people I know have lived that were affordable in various cities around the country, I think of the friend who lived over a bar or the one who lived in an old storefront or the one who lived with a dozen other artists all crammed in one house. I don’t want to wax nostalgic for those dumps; a person should not have to worry about stepping through a floor on the way to the bathroom, but those places were cheap and conveniently located. They didn’t have to be great because you didn’t have to be home a lot.

Which is not to say that each of those places didn’t have their quirky charms — old clawfoot tubs, basements full of generations of stuff to pick through, cool neighbors, etc.  Read More

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