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VOL. 39 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 21, 2015

Franklin mayor: Affordable housing options lacking

By Linda Bryant

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Franklin Mayor Ken Moore got a strong vote of confidence when he was elected in 2011 with 80 percent of the vote.

The orthopedic surgeon and former city alderman and vice mayor vowed to take on difficult decisions and prepare Franklin for the next generation.

Tackling Franklin’s lack of housing below the $400,000 range – and figuring out what to do about it – is one of those challenges.

Moore commissioned a housing-needs analysis and spearheaded two housing summits that brought together a wide swath of the community, including elected officials, business leaders, residents, clergy and nonprofit leaders.

He also created the Franklin Housing Commission to specifically encourage affordable housing and to advise the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on affordable, workforce and moderately priced housing issues and opportunities.

“We want Franklin to have a broad mix of housing that supports our growing workforce,” Moore says.

“It’s critical that we work on this issue now, and it’s not easy. We want to be a place that can accommodate different income levels, and we need more than one tool in our toolbox to do it.”

Despite the legwork done so far on Franklin’s affordable housing issue, some housing advocates and city leaders have complained that there’s been more talk than action on the issue.

That could be changing soon.

Housing commissioners will soon present a draft of a new ordinance meant to put some teeth in the city’s current inclusionary zoning ordinance to Franklin’s Board of Mayor and Alderman.

Among some of the changes expected in the revised ordinance – at least 15 percent of the total number of residential units built in Franklin will be required to in the middle market range of $238,000 to $306,000.

Many housing advocates are pushing for the new IZ (inclusionary zoning) ordinance to be mandatory, and that could spark some controversy since mandatory IZ ordinances are often controversial, especially among developers and homebuilders.

The Ledger spoke with Mayor Moore about the city’s affordable housing challenge.

Q: How would you describe Franklin’s affordable housing issue? Is it urgent?

A: “Last year the city hired a consultant to conduct a housing needs analysis. The analysis confirmed our average housing costs were over $400,000 and that we lacked an adequate supply within the affordable and workforce housing price range.

“The analysis identified several potential strategies and reinforced the importance of Franklin needing to diversify and expand housing types in order to maintain a robust economy for the long term.’’

Q: What happens in an affluent community if there’s not enough affordable housing available?

A: “I think that we are presently experiencing here in Franklin is a good example. Workers are commuting from other communities and counties that contribute to some of our traffic problems. They leave their community, and we welcome them to work in our businesses, stores, and restaurants but the lack of housing is a barrier for them to become a part of Franklin.

“Business looking to expand or locate in communities like Franklin want to be assured there is an adequate workforce available to maintain and grow their business, and the lack of housing choices could be a deterrent. Also, the gentrification of mature neighborhoods begins to occur.’’

Q: What is the city currently doing to address affordable housing?

A: “We have identified and confirmed there is a lack of affordable and workforce housing in Franklin. The consultant assisted us with performing a housing needs analysis that was followed by meetings with the community, city staff and the Board of Mayor and Alderman.

“I appointed a Housing Commission to study the issue and to forward recommendations to the board. We recently held two housing summits with the community leaders to inform them of the findings and also to garner their ideas on how to proceed.

“We are now looking at policies that may be able to help increase the supply of housing attainable by families whose incomes fall within the affordable and workforce housing range.

“One such policy is inclusionary zoning (IZ), but this is just one of many tools available to communities who have similar housing issues. There are variations on IZ and that is the stage we are in at presently.

“The city’s current IZ ordinance has generated a small amount of funds that have been utilized to offset development costs on a couple housing projects, but the challenge is to identify a sustainable funding source.’’

Q: Can you explain where the city currently stands with inclusionary zoning?

A: “Many people I’ve talked to believe IZ needs to be mandatory or it will be ineffective. Other people believe it should be voluntary.’’

Q: How is the city dealing with making a decision about how to be more effective with its affordable housing?

“This is a process for our community to discuss and evaluate needs and options. Some of the questions that are yet to be fully discussed is identifying and understanding all of our options, how would an IZ ordinance work in Franklin, and what is our desirable mix of affordable and workforce housing?

“We have been using Chapel Hill, NC’s ordinance as a model to craft ours and are continuing to work on it.

“Our next steps are engagement from the Board of Mayor and Alderman and also conversations with local developers and real estate professionals to understand how we can create an ordinance that begins to address the housing diversity issue and is a win for all stakeholders.’’

Q: Franklin has been trying to address affordable housing in multiple ways through non-profits, government grants, inclusionary zoning, housing summits, etc. Do you have any recommendations for other communities facing the same issue? What are a couple of the most effective things you’ve done so far?

A: “Certainly, non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity, Hard Bargain, and the Franklin Housing Authority are a few of the organizations that are helping address the issue. However, the number of units that are needed is difficult for these entities to produce on their own.

“Each community will have differing needs and we continue to explore what best solutions are for Franklin and its residents.’’

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