____ fighters and the police officers and to make sure we have the newest equipment. That money has to be found, and it has to come from somewhere. My goal would always be to have a balanced budget—no more deficit spending—and if I can help it, no more borrowing. COOPER: That started with the author of a process called the Blue-Ribbon Commission, which issued its first report, and it’s a worthy process to try to identify budget and revenue savings, and it feels like it’s come up with $20 million in its most recent report. I think you make that process really valuable to the city, and that’s going to require getting the finance department, and probably some consultants, to really systematically examine best practices around the country and to use those savings. You can only contemplate tax increases once you have thoroughly gone through the budget for savings. There are some sources of revenue to try to get the marvelous tourist economy downtown to really completely pay for itself. The era of the general taxpayer subsidizing downtown needs to be over because downtown is so successful. So, it’s not bad news in any way, it’s recognition of success, right? The hotel taxes and the sales taxes collected by the tourist economy downtown are robust and going way up. The financial effect of 3,000 or more hotel rooms is really positive and beneficial and I do believe will allow the tourist economy to pay for itself going forward, hopefully covering things like police overtime and the additional expenses that a city has. The extra-large tourist development zone downtown, the sales tax coming from that—from the convention center, I hope inspires them to have a bigger sense of stewardship of the city than just that building because it
372WN.com | June–July 2019
is collecting taxes from much more than that.
Metro is losing critical professionals like teachers and police officers. One of the contributing factors is the lack of affordable housing available in the neighborhoods they serve. (Service professionals are also affected by this.) What is your price point for affordable housing, and as mayor, how will you reach that price point and what sort of incentives will you offer to bring these professionals back to Metro? CLEMMONS: When you consider affordable housing, you don’t want anybody paying over 30 percent of their annual income for housing, so that’s really what has to be the driving factor. When we look at the fact that we’re going to have a 31,000unit shortage over the next six years? You can break that down—I would say about 9,000 of those units, looking at the current map and the low-income households in the city, about 9,000 of those 31,000 units fall under the category of affordable and workforce housing. But 22,000 of them probably fall into the category of Section 8 housing. Those are people who can only pay about $325 to $350 a month on housing if you look at that 30 percent threshold. You’ve got to break it down into the realities of what those income brackets are throughout the city. I approach affordable housing from the stand point of . . . it is a crisis, and this city has to make it a priority. We have to create a dedicated revenue stream upon which nonprofits and private developers can rely to build affordable housing in the city. We’re currently not doing that, and we’re only paying this issue lip-service. Bragging about
$9.8 million in affordable housing is an embarrassment to people who really care about this issue, and it’s offensive to the families who are being displaced in the city every single day. Other cities, with which we like to compare ourselves, are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into affordable housing— and this administration is bragging about $9.8 million? That’s offensive. We have to do more. We can do more, and it has to be a sufficient amount. Fifty million dollars is generally considered a baseline for the Barnes Fund to remotely be effective. Not only do we need to get up the amount of money, but it has to be a dedicated revenue stream with a recurring budget line item so that these nonprofits and these project developers can rely on those funds to build these projects and get that equity piece for their financing to address this issue. I can tell you, if we do a better job and we work with HUD and THDA to build Section 8 housing in the city, we can build 9,000 units of affordable and workforce housing—this city is capable of building 9,000 units in six years. This is a challenge that we can overcome, but it requires admitting it’s a crisis, it requires prioritizing the issue, and it requires putting the money where our mouth is, unlike this current administration. You can’t talk about affordable housing without talking about transportation, without talking about education, without talking about wages. All those issues are connected, and they have to be approached holistically. You can’t just talk about affordable housing without talking about those other issues. You can’t talk about transportation without talking about affordable housing and wages because people are being displaced, transportation then becomes an option. Their wages are a reason they’re possibly being displaced