One attraction that has lured families to Murfeesboro is housing. Basically, you get more house for you dollar than in many other places in the Nashville region. That may be changing, however.

The Kendig Keast Collaborative, a consultant the city hired to do a 20-year planning study, reports that in 2014 the median house price here was $176,200, while the median family income was $50,768. If a homeowner has no other debt that house is affordable for the median-wage buyer with a 30-year, 5% mortgage.

Even household earning as much as $40,614 should be able to afford a home priced at around $148,000.

Hitting them where it hurts

A lending rule of thumb is that a family should not spend more than 30% of its income on housing costs. Kendig Keast reports that about 29% of families here with a mortgage are paying more than the 30% rule.  Moreover, 20% are paying 35% of their income or more on housing.  Among renters, 52% in the city are paying more than 30% of their income for housing and 43% are paying more than 35% of their income for rent.

The figures are even more alarming if we combine the portion of household income devoted to housing and the additional money paid for transportation costs.

Should we care? Aren’t these issues better left to the free market? Kendig Keast thinks we should care. Like a skillful boxer, the consultant fakes a punch at our moral sense and lands one solidly on our Chamber of Commerce. Here is his two-point argument:

(1) The truth is if families pay too much for housing and transportation costs, they won’t have enough discretionary money to spend shopping here, and the whole local economy will suffer.

(2) Housing affordability is also a key to attracting and retaining a quality labor force in this area.

A better mix of housing needed

The upshot, the consultant argues, is that the city needs a heavier proportion of its housing mix in multi-family housing, “starter” housing (like zero-lot line) and homes in the intermediate price range. Local government can promote this kind of housing by making sure there is enough land zoned for affordable homes and apartments.

Some recommendations

Here are the consultant’s specific recommendations for promoting affordable housing in Murfreesboro:

Award density bonuses to those developers who include a greater mix of affordable housing in their developments. Unfortunately, this technique only works if a developer agrees to pursue a planned unit development or planned residential district instead of straight zoning.

Set goals for housing at various price levels so that the supply matches residents’ budgets better.

Homes near jobs and near public transportation

— Promote affordable homes and rentals that are close to public transportation.

–Set up a revolving loan fund that can provide “gap” funding to developers who commit to building affordable housing.

–Consider a tenant assistance fund that would help renters if rents in a neighborhood rise because of redevelopment.

— Lobby the state for the authority to tax multi-family properties comprised of affordable housing at less than their 100% assessed valuation.

“Home Sharing” and “Shared Equity”

— Invite home-sharing programs to set up here. In one example, seniors furnish their bedrooms to their taste but share a common area. A staff member of the program lives on the site, prepares meals and cleans the common area.

–Initiate a housing plan that includes an affordable-housing element. It would be supplemented regularly by data on how well the affordable housing targets are being met.

— Replace downpayment housing assistance with a shared-equity arrangement. If a homeowner can only qualify for a $50,000 house, but the lowest market price is $100,000, the city’s housing program kicks in the difference. Then the housing agency and the homeowner share the equity. If he decides to sell, the homeowner must sell the home to someone seeking affordable housing at a reasonable price.

–Encourage affordable housing developments that are close to jobs suited for the residents of these homes.

–Provide more programs to assist seniors so they can remain in a private home for as long as possible.