A Bold New Public Housing Plan For Nashville Is Not Without Risk | Nashville Public Radio

A Bold New Public Housing Plan For Nashville Is Not Without Risk

Jun 14, 2018

Nashville's housing authority says that by summer's end every single unit of public housing in the city will no longer be traditional public housing.

It's part of a sweeping overhaul of Nashville's low-income developments, many of which date back to the late 1930s. The bold concept means asking the federal government to hand over the title on every single piece of public housing, essentially turning the city into a private landlord.

And Nashville is one of only three cities in the country taking such a leap, alongside San Francisco and El Paso. 

But the initiative isn't without risk. The program, called Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, ups the chances that the land will eventually pass from cities to the hands of private developers. It's also only a test program, not necessarily intended for wholesale application.

Still, it's a gamble Nashville's housing director Jim Harbison is willing to take.

"I am absolutely convinced that RAD is so much better than public housing," Harbison said. "And there are just a host of ways that it's better to have ownership of the property. I mean, the things we're doing now, we couldn't have considered under public housing." 

Those include overhauling the thousands of units across Nashville. For years, the federal government hasn't budgeted enough to maintain public housing, causing it to fall into disrepair.

But RAD is hardly a perfect solution. A recent report by the federal Government Accountability Office criticized the program for its lack of oversight and failure to insure residents' rights. Harbison says he has yet to read the report but sees no other way to move forward.  

"I wish it was perfect. The perfect world would be just unlimited amounts of money to take care of people," Harbison said. "That's never going to happen. But it's significantly better than the model we were in before."

Nashville now owns 18 of its 20 public housing properties. It expects the federal government to hand over the remaining two by July.