PATHE Coalition press conference responds to Mayor Megan Barry’s transit referendum announcement:

When will the mayor and Metro Council commit to affordable housing, good jobs, and immediate improvements to transit?

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The People's’ Alliance for Transit, Housing, and Employment (PATHE) is a coalition of renters, bus riders, unhoused people, transit employees, construction workers, and other concerned residents who are tired of being pushed out of our neighborhoods and communities in the name of “growth”. We are concerned over the absence of written and enforceable Community Benefits Agreements or other public policies coinciding with Mayor Barry’s bill to place a $5.4 billion tax referendum on the May 2018 ballot.

While no one denies that our public transit system needs major expansion, we have waited years without being presented with a plan that addresses our city’s most pressing needs including the construction of truly affordable housing, immediate bus expansion, and the creation of good jobs. The experience of other cities, including Denver and Atlanta, has shown that without explicit community benefits (or equivalent measures) legally written into or alongside major transit projects, there are unintended, devastating consequences for everyday people. These include dramatic cost of living hikes along new transit corridors, mass displacement of poor and working-class residents, closing of small businesses, land grabs by private investment firms and developers, and loss of bus services in neighborhoods that need it the most.

Before we can support a tax referendum, we need to see written and enforceable community benefits provisions that ensure that our tax dollars are actually used to benefit all of us. PATHE urges you to advocate for legislation addressing three critical areas:

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Housing

We are in the midst of a deepening housing crisis. Average rent has skyrocketed over 50% since 2010 and right now, half of all Nashville renters are cost burdened. We need policies that protect our communities from displacement, retain our affordable housing stock, and guarantee construction of housing that meet the needs of our neighbors and families. According to the mayor, 31,000 units of affordable housing must be built or preserved by 2025 to meet the needs of our working-class residents. To be clear, that’s 31,000 homes for households earning between $0-$41,000 per year. Unfortunately, as new transit corridors are developed, property speculation and gentrification along these corridors will drive up property prices and rents. Light rail is meaningless if most of us can no longer afford to live along the routes.

Before we will vote for the transit referendum, we need to see:

  • A dedicated funding source for the Barnes Housing Trust Fund that would leverage no less than $775 million by 2025 and $100 million by the end of FY 2018.
  • Policies in place that ensure that TIF financing and other tax incentives for residential development in TOD districts are used solely for affordable and workforce housing (in equal proportion).
  • Establishment of Community Land Trusts and Land Banks to protect and preserve land along transit corridors.
  • Commitment to a quarterly scorecard outlining how many units of affordable housing have been built and how many have been lost.
  • Strict affordability requirements on the sale or lease of any MTA or Metro owned land on transit corridors.
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Immediate and Long Term Expansion of Bus Transit

We agree with Mayor Barry that the foundation of any public transit plan must be expanded bus service, and we welcome promises to extend service to twenty hours per day, expand routes, and provide reduced and free bus fares.

  • Before the May 2018 tax referendum, the MTA Board should adopt a policy that ensures free fares systemwide for Davidson County residents who earn 0-80% of median income. This policy should extend to 2068, when the proposed transit tax is scheduled to sunset.
  • MTA should disclose the fare rates for each stop and departure point on the light rail system.
  • We need immediate improvement of the bus system. Transit-dependent riders cannot wait until Fall 2019 - two more years - to expand frequency to every 15 minutes on the busiest routes. We need 10 minute departure frequency on the 14 busiest routes and 20-30 minute departure frequencies on every other route as a top priority to implement by Fall 2018.
  • Given the rate of displacement to areas like Antioch, Madison, and Hermitage, we need route extensions as soon as possible. Riders cannot wait until Fall 2019 to begin route extensions.
  • While expanding service to 20 hours per day on the top 10 routes by Fall 2018 is a good start, many low-income Nashvillians work in the hospitality industry, including Bridgestone Arena and Lower Broadway. If the MTA and mayor refuse to fund 24-hour service, riders at the very least need the MTA to provide night owl buses to cover the four-hour gap.

These transit demands should be incorporated into funded MTA policy changes before Nashvillians are asked to vote on a sales tax referendum, even if it requires dipping into the city’s 4% Reserve Fund. This is a basic civil rights issue, and riders are tired of sitting on the back of the bus.

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Employment

Employment for the “Let's Move Nashville” project should use a first source hiring policy that seeks to employ residents from economically distressed communities. The first source hiring must utilize diverse workforce agencies that extend beyond or outside the traditional platforms (e.g. Nashville Career Advancement Center) used by Metro government. It is also important that the contractors and subcontractors selected to work on the light rail and related transit-oriented development only be awarded bids if the bids have verifiable, best-value contract practices in compliance with fair wage and civil rights protections, especially regarding race, gender, and Limited English Proficiency. Further, employment on light rail construction and related projects should pay family-supporting wages, and within the parameters allowable by federal and state laws, dedicate 30% of the project work hours at the entry and apprenticeship levels to residents with barriers to employment.

Our city shamefully witnessed wage theft and hazardous conditions in the construction of the $623 million taxpayer-funded Music City Center. We must do better. Finally, the transit plan must develop a long-term stabilization plan for light rail employees that are consistent with the existing transit workforce in Nashville. We support unionization of all rail employees by the Amalgamated Transit Union, which is the bargaining unit for public bus employees, and a neutrality clause will be essential to helping make this possible.

  • Only use construction contractors and subcontractors who pay a living wage and benefits.
  • Dedicate city funds for certified apprenticeship programs targeting communities along transit corridors and in Promise Zones.
  • Pay a living wage to all rail employees (at least $15/hr) & right to unionize without retaliation.

While the mayor’s top three priorities may be “Transit, Transit, and Transit,” our communities need affordable housing, expanded transit service now, and living-wage jobs to ensure genuine equitable development. Nashville is witnessing intensifying racial and economic segregation that Mayor Megan Barry, Metro Council, and the MTA have a special opportunity to reverse. We ask that you take a stand to serve all of Nashville by working to pass enforceable community benefits with the transit referendum.

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Sincerely, 
PATHE Coalition

HomesForAll Nashville

Music City Riders United 

Democracy Nashville

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1235