As rent prices continue to rise in Knox County, so does the call to action for local governments to do what they can to fix rent issues. One group of local renters has created a union to bring attention to the problem, the Knox Area Tenants Union or KATU.
“I really applaud the folks that created the union in the city of Knoxville just to start this conversation if nothing else to say, let’s talk about what needs to happen,” State Representative Sam Mckenzie said. “It begins at the state level because the state put the hard line that says locals cannot do anything to take a look at managing rental prices.”
That “hard line” he’s talking about is Senate Bill 363, which passed several years ago. It keeps rent control out of the hands of local governments. The bill states “no local government has the authority to enact a law that would place requirements regarding inclusionary, affordable or below market value housing.”
The issue with renting homes at an affordable price has been building for years and is now breaking the surface.
“It goes back many years, maybe even as far back as 2008 when we had the Great Recession,” State Senator Richard Briggs said. “There was a period of time when no homes were being built, no apartments, no duplexes, nothing was occurring because of the unavailability of funds for developers and builders.”
Briggs also mentioned the nationwide shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic as another reason this issue has persisted. He said there is a third reason that deals with the city councils and county commissions in regard to their zoning.
“What’s been a trend in Knox County and Knoxville, is that many of the neighborhoods do not want multi-unit housings to be built in their neighborhoods,” Briggs said.
Many lawmakers say something needs to change.
“Tennessee’s state always says local government is the best, however, they are continually pre-empting our cities and counties from being able to help the people in those areas and giving some protections to those that our renting,” State Representative Gloria Johnson said. “It has to change because this is so unfair to the people in Knoxville and around the state, quite frankly.”
Johnson said her office is constantly getting calls from her constituents saying their rent has nearly doubled in the last year.
As a way to combat this crisis, McKenzie is planning to bring up legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly that would give power on rent control back to local governments.