Are We Thinking At All?

editorial-logo3Sometimes I wonder what we are thinking in Jefferson County. Or rather, are we thinking at all? Last year, an outside company came looking to put section 42 housing adjacent to the Field of Dreams in Dandridge. Ultimately, the company did not receive the tax credit grant that they were looking for and moved on to greener pastures. I had hoped that, as a County and individual municipalities, we had learned something from that situation. We should have learned that Section 42 housing is low income housing, by very definition. We should have learned that Section 42 housing takes section 8 vouchers by mandate of the State and Federal government. We should have learned that applications for housing are THDA low income housing applications and that THDA has a strict policy regarding picking and choosing residents based on other considerations than income. We should have learned that Section 42 housing is open to anyone who meets the criteria and that it is not reserved for Jefferson County residents.

What I have learned is that six-yes, six- companies have submitted applications this year for Section 42 housing in Jefferson County. Three applications in Dandridge and three applications in Jefferson City but all within close proximity of each other. Should all be granted tax credits, there will be more than 330 units of low income housing coming to Jefferson County in the next year. These Section 42 housing complexes are mandated to stay for 30 years. Sure the plans look good now but have you ever seen low income housing after one decade, little alone two or three? I have nothing against affordable housing for our residents. In fact, I strongly believe that we need affordable housing but this is not the answer to our problems. This is a program over which we, and the developers, have very little control. They are attracted to Jefferson County because it plays well into the rubric, which ups their chances for tax credits. Some will think that it is unthinkable that I would be opposed to low income housing. Believe me, these companies are not looking to put up Section 42 housing because they are concerned about the masses. No, these are for profit companies that are interested in their economic gain. It has been estimated that developers can sell their tax credits for as much as 85 cents on the dollar and we are talking about big dollar amounts. Schools will suffer, property values will suffer and our community will suffer. Jefferson County needs to take care of our own but we cannot afford to take care of the economically disadvantaged from other communities that don’t look as good on the rubric.

Certainly, Section 42 tax credits are very competitive and it is not likely that all will be approved. But, as companies began to focus on areas that look good on the point system that is used to award tax credits, the trend is to pile multiple applications on a few counties and, surprise, we are one of those counties. I am appalled that no one is watching out for these for profit companies looking to pile us knee deep in low income housing. I am even more appalled that our municipalities are comfortable with just letting the chips fall where they may. Pretty soon we are going to be knee deep in chips and it isn’t going to be pretty. Poor judgment abounds regarding this situation and I fear that we are all going to be paying the price for a very long time. One or two Section 42 housing complexes today. One or two next year and the next and the next. As long as we look good on the score sheet we will be on the target list for low income housing developers. With the increase of low income housing, our per household income goes down, which creates a cycle that we may never get out of. While other cities and counties are looking to move them out, we are welcoming them in. Other downtown areas that are trying to revitalize are carefully planning their efforts and section 42 housing is not conducive to quaint shops and restaurants. In Dandridge, some washed their hands of the project slotted for the old Dandridge Elementary School and some actually encouraged and facilitated turning it into low income housing. I have actually heard some say that it will boost the foot traffic in town and help shop owners. How many people that qualify for low income housing are looking for $25 antique salt shakers or $4 high end candy or knick knacks? It just simply isn’t realistic. We cannot find enough property to bring in industry to put our current economically disadvantaged to work in decent paying jobs (so that they are not economically disadvantaged) but we can find the space for 6 section 42 housing complexes to attract the economically disadvantaged from other areas. We are just beginning to see some economic recovery in our area. Is this truly the path that we want Jefferson County to take? If we do not wake up and get realistic about our future then we are destined to become the dropping place for what more progressive, thoughtful, prepared communities simply don’t want. Jefferson County-the community wasteland. It could have been a great place to live with a little fore thought.

Source: K. Depew, News Director