Coalition forms to push back against Mayor Barry’s referendum


Nashville has yet another transit coalition, but unlike the others, this group is aiming to push back against Mayor Megan Barry‘s highly anticipated transit referendum, slated to debut next month.

The new coalition — called People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing and Employment (also called PATHE) — will launch Sunday with events scheduled throughout the first half of the week, including a march from East Nashville to City Hall.

The group’s mission is to make sure any funding plan includes specific provisions to insure affordable housing along transit lines — such as eminent domain requirements that prohibit the city from selling land along routes to private developers to then develop and sell at market rate, according to Austin Sauerbrei, an organizer with Nashville tenant organizing group Homes For All Nashville — one of the coalition’s founding organizations.

Mass transit has become the most dominant issue of Barry’s first term as mayor, with business leaders pushing her to find a solution to our growing mobility challenges that they feel could end Nashville’s boom if not addressed. However, the new coalition’s platform shows how much is on Barry’s plate as she addresses the varying and difficult facets associated with mass transit.

Other members of the coalition include the Music City Riders United, which includes riders of the city’s current transit system; Democracy Nashville, which is most known for backing the city’s Ban the Box campaign to support hiring efforts for people with past convictions; and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1235, which is the city’s transit union.

“We’ve done research in other cities where similar projects have gone through, and we’ve seen developers buying property and pushing people out,” Sauerbrei said in a phone conversation. “We’re not against doing something for transit, but we want to see what measurements are being done to prevent displacement. … When we hear from the Metropolitan Transit Authority director [Steve Bland] that this plan is geared toward rapid economic growth, then unless it’s going to include some requirements, it will not bode well for folks not earning $60,000 to $70,000 per year. With a $6 billion investment, we need assures that working class folks can live along those corridors.”

For instance, he pointed to the recent questions over Atlanta’s Beltline project — which took an old railway line and converted it to improve transportation, build greenspace and increase redevelopment — as an example of what could happen to Nashville if provisions aren’t put into place. The Atlanta project has become a critical issue in the city’s ongoing mayoral race, with candidates calling for more affordable housing near the Beltline and an increased emphasis on affordable housing within transit-oriented developments.

Sauerbrei said the group also hopes to insure the mayor’s plan will include plans for insuring workers hired not only to build the city’s new transit system but also workers hired to operate the system will be guaranteed a living wage.

To be sure, affordable housing has been a key issue facing Barry, with a recent report saying the city could face a shortage of 30,934 affordable-housing unitsby 2025.

In late June, Barry launched Metro’s new Office of Housing, under Adriane Bond Harris, which is designed to fund, build, preserve and retain affordable and workforce housing.

Sean Braisted, the mayor’s director of communications, said affordable housing continues be a priority for Barry, writing in an email:

In this fiscal year, Mayor Barry and the Metro Council have committed $35 million between the Barnes Fund and general obligation bonds to build, preserve and maintain affordable and workforce housing in Nashville. We also worked with state lawmakers during the last session to create Transit Oriented Development District enabling legislation (HB1384/SB783) which will allow Metro and [Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency] to use new revenue generated as a result of increases in land values to purchase property and create incentives for developing affordable and workforce housing along the transit corridors.

The new coalition’s launch comes one week after the public launch of Transit for Nashville, a Barry-backed, pro-transit organization. That group has the financial backing of Citizens for Greater Mobility, a political action committee hoping to raise $2.5 million to support the mayor’s referendum.

Please Join Our FREE Newsletter!