…The post-housing-crash world is very different from the housing world we had before the crash. We now have fewer grants to create affordable housing; HUD’s housing budget is constantly being cut; land is more expensive; and investors have great resources of capital to buy land and buildings, speculating that these values will continue to increase. Last summer an investor bought three acres 10 minutes from downtown for under $300,000. He now has it on the market for more than $1 million. The affordable housing that was on this property is gone, and the tremendously increased new price makes it difficult to impossible to build affordable housing on it.
But there are some positives in this post-recession environment. Specifically, we have two new factors working for us that were not there before the housing crash. First, the millennials have arrived. They are a wonderfully creative bunch who actively seek to reshape parts of our culture for the better. A surprising number of millennials hold a deep belief in and commitment to living sustainably and reducing their carbon footprint. They are looking for green, energy-efficient, smaller homes that are less costly to own and run than the big homes they grew up in.
The second positive post-recession change is the popularization of the smaller home. Tiny and micro homes work well for millennials, downsizing boomers, and singles and couples of all ages. Plus these smaller homes hold great potential to address the housing needs of Nashville’s lowest-income groups: our special-needs citizens and those living only on Social Security. Micro homes give these populations the independence they desire and need, and when built in a community they allow their social-service workers economies of scale. These homes can be used in a modified format to house the homeless and our lower-income elderly seeking to stay independent.
But guess what? We, like most cities in America, are not ready to release these tiny and micro homes in our residential neighborhoods. Like most cities, we have zoning laws from a former time when density was bad, land was much cheaper, and keeping the status quo was all-important. We are now in a new era. Since the crash, our world of real estate has become much more expensive, and more people than ever want to live in the city. We need to catch our land laws up to where society is today. If we make these legal changes and embrace these new popular housing types and new housing demands, we will be able to create needed new good, decent, safe, affordable housing options in Nashville.