This week, we interviewed Fulcrum Fellow Adriane Bond Harris. Adriane is the Director of the Nashville Mayor’s Office of Housing, which focuses on Nashville’s efforts to fund, build, and preserve affordable and workforce housing units. In this role, she has overseen the commitment of more than $50 million dollars to housing efforts for low- to middle-income residents and families. In the interview, Adriane shares a bit of the journey that landed her in her current role and her goals for the work moving forward.
Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you ended up in your role at the Mayor’s Office of Housing in Nashville?
I’m from a small rural town in Tennessee, where I grew up in a close-knit community. I always dreamed of working in a larger city, but still wanted to have a close-knit community around me. I learned about urban planning when I was an undergraduate and thought it could be a way to bring the feeling of community that I experienced growing up to the city. My first job out of grad school was here in Nashville, and I have loved every minute of living here and working on a variety of issues, from land use to community development, and now affordable housing development. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in different sectors: nonprofit, government, and private consulting. In 2015, I was working for a local CDFI and that year, Mayor Megan Barry won and one of her top priorities was affordable housing. I was invited to advise and lead her housing efforts. I have been here for 3 years, and in that time, we have been able to invest over $50 million which has created or preserved nearly 2,000 units.
What challenge have you chosen to focus on in your Fulcrum Fellowship?
I have been in Nashville for 15 years. The city has seen a lot of investment during this time, but I have been aware that there is one community that hasn’t seen the same level of investment as others. My challenge is focused on creating an action plan to develop mixed income housing in that community, while ensuring that current residents can continue to afford to live there. I am working on an anti-displacement strategy for North Nashville, which is primarily African American, that will coordinate with workforce development and economic inclusion efforts in an overall equitable economic development strategy.
Tell us more about this plan.
As an Office, we wanted to concentrate on North Nashville. Our emphasis has been on an equitable development strategy including a housing strategy, focusing primarily on anti-displacement strategy for both residents and businesses. The housing strategy includes ways to create access to capital for rehab, repair, or the acquisition of new property for development. There are multiple challenges with Nashville being a high growth market, but I think we have figured out some pieces of the puzzle to create a development pipeline and to prevent displacement along the way.
What are you learning about what it’s going to take to move your challenge?
I’m learning how to handle adaptive challenges and how to react when presented with these kinds of challenges. I’m also learning how to ask more from communities—how to build a list of people who can help move this challenge forward by working in partnership to make sure the strategies we are developing are successful. I’ve also learned that we can get buy-in from community stakeholders beyond city government—the city does not have to do this alone. I’ve learned to think about this as a pipeline, as a system, with a variety of ways and partners to help develop the project.
How have you approached your engagement of additional stakeholders?
Initially, I was setting up meetings with organizations that I knew may be interested in working on these issues. What that did was provide them an outlet to develop their own strategy that contributed to the overall goal. I am now working with several organizations that are helping us with various pieces. For example, Vanderbilt Wond’ry, the University’s innovation center which has a focus on affordable housing, is assisting us with focus groups and helping us think about how to get resident buy-in for our strategy.
In addition to helping advance your challenge, what have been the most valuable aspects of the Fulcrum Fellowship to you so far?
The professional network is unmatched. The caliber of the fellows is outstanding. I feel like I can call any one of the Fellows and they can help me work through any issue. The mentorship from Robin and Marian not just through the challenge, but as a leader, has been fantastic and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with them. The books, articles, and the amount of information we have covered in this short time have helped evolve my decision-making ability and helped me think through various ways of approaching and solving problems. The community investment and capital absorption framework have provided a very useful foundation, which I now refer to as I approach development deals. I don’t think I would have gotten all of this through any other program.
What most excites you looking ahead to the rest of the year?
This has been an interesting year for me as well as this office. I look forward to seeing how this work continues in the midst of transition. With new leadership, I want to make sure the work I’ve been doing is baked into priorities moving forward. I also want to make sure communities take the concept of community investment and think about how they can invest in themselves. I want to be able to come back in five years and talk to the people I’m working with now and have them say, “We have access to capital and know what resources are out there to help us be successful.”
What is your media diet? (One thing you read/listened to/watched recently, or what you do regularly)
I’m all over the board. I just finished a 30 for 30 podcast series. It was interesting to get into the weeds of the things that I think of as staples like yoga and find out more about them. I am also reading The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin, a story about a gentleman who was finally released from prison after being wrongly convicted and incarcerated for decades. It has reminded me of the importance of reaching out to formerly incarcerated individuals to make sure they can comfortably reintegrate into our communities.