Council approves housing, anti-violence funding

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If there was one underlying theme during Tuesday’s meeting of Knoxville City Council, it was how best to spend money.

Time after time, Council members had to decide how to spend funds that are pouring in from state and federal programs, mostly in the form of grants meant to help communities fight homelessness, crime, or other issues. 

For instance, Council authorized Mayor Indya Kincannon to go forward with awarding approximately $2 million for 69 affordable housing units on Fennel Road and $510,000 for 17 affordable housing units at Westview Towers on Gleason Drive in West Knoxville.

The availability of affordable housing units has become one of the City’s most-pressing issues due to an unprecedented number of homeless people sleeping on the streets and skyrocketing rental prices.

Alvin Nance, CEO of Development for LHP Capital, explained that the grant for the Gleason Drive property is being treated as a loan that will be paid back to the City. Nance said the arrangement allows for a “a deeper rehab” to be performed on each unit, all of which are meant for elderly renters.

“We want to make sure this is quality housing,” said Council member Charles Thomas. “If we have to spend extra money to make these really high quality, that’s what we should do.”

There was little discussion or debate at Tuesday’s meeting, with most measures passing unanimously as Council members approved a number of zoning changes and building projects.

The one exception came when Council member Amelia Parker expressed reservations about how to use Knoxville’s share of grant money from the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs, which anticipated to be $1,396,448.

Parker objected to the presumption that the money should go to the Knoxville Police Department when other agencies or strategies might do more to curtail violent crime.

KPD Chief Paul Noel explained that it was too early to say exactly how the grant would be used by his department. “We’re still learning what it can be used for,” he said. “We’re still in the process of learning more about the grant.”

Parker then said she would oppose the measure because she didn’t know what it would be used for.

“I’m wondering if we’re leaning too much on KPD for violence intervention,” Parker said. “We need to have a discussion in this City and we haven’t had it yet…We need to not let the availability of grant money drive what we do.”

She continued: “It’s easy. The money just flows in, then before you know it you’re relying on the police to do everything because they’re the only one who are funded. My instinct is to simply resist until we have a plan in place.”

Council also voted unanimously to make Juneteenth — which celebrates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans — an official City holiday. 

Published on November 2, 2022.