Thumbnail: Memphis lags significantly behind comparable cities in its investment in affordable housing. If it halved the $19.3 million increase in the police and fire budgets and used that half to fund bonds, it could invest $106 million to address the city’s serious affordable housing deficit.
In my last blog post, “Memphis Affordable Housing Program Falls Short Of Addressing Needs,” I contrasted Charlotte’s $50 million investment in affordable housing to $1 million in Memphis.
These are difficult days for finance officials in city government who are dealing with the damage done by Covid-19 which has blown a hole in tax revenues.
That said, despite this stressful financial context in this fiscal year, the City of Memphis increases the Memphis Police Department budget by $9.3 million and the Memphis Fire Department by $8 million.
In other words, while most departments’ budgets are flat or with slight increases, public safety – in the midst of a pandemic and Black Lives Matter – saw their budgets climb $17.3 million.
Here’s the point: If City of Memphis would half the funding for public safety, it could take the half and invest it in affordable housing. In this way, it could issue about $106 million in bonds to address Memphis’ affordable housing deficit of 33,000 units.
Meanwhile, this year’s budget for the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development was reduced $370,305 – a 7% cut.
While Memphis has had a drastic affordable housing deficit for many years, it will inevitably become even worse as a result of the pandemic. While it may seem counterintuitive at a time when city government complains of difficult budgets, there’s not been a more appropriate time to invest.
Here’s the June 8, 2020, blog post about the City of Memphis budget and its priorities:
The proposed City of Memphis budget for FY 2021 dramatically reflects the damaging impact of Covid-19 with a proposed budget for the coming year that is about $30 million less than the forecasts for FY 2020.
To offset the significant blow to its revenues, grants and subsidies are bearing the brunt of the impact. The proposed budget has $35.1 million for grants and subsidies, which compares to the current adopted budget of $50.2 million and the forecast budget for this year of $68.9 million.
While protesters call for the “defunding of the police,” the proposed budget for MPD increased from $272.8 million in the current adopted budget to $282.1 million in the proposed budget.
It’s the largest increase of any city division in actual funding; however, in terms of percentage increase, City Courts increased by 17.7%, compared to the MPD increase of 3.4%.
The “defund the police” chants are a plea for cities to reallocate money from police budgets and invest it in services like neighborhood revitalization, housing, parks, libraries, and interventions.
While the chant’s meaning is regularly distorted by right wing extremists, there is logic in this more balanced budgeting approach. After all, in the past four decades, the cost of policing in the U.S. has tripled to $115 billion a year although crime has fallen.
The following is the percentage increase or decrease for each division, the amount of the funding increase or decrease (comparing the FY 20 adopted budget to the proposed FY 21 budget):
+17.7% + $1,018,852 – City Court Clerk
+4.4% + $8,000,278 – Memphis Fire Department
+3.4% + $9,327,585 – Memphis Police Department
+2.8% + $542,300 – Executive
+2.0% + $437,359 – Libraries
+1.2% + $10,059 – Judicial City Courts
-.9% – $151,462 – Public Works
-1.0% – $129,380 – Information Systems
-3.6% – $521,298 – City Attorney
-5.2% – $1.266,400 – General Services
-5.8% – $517,935 – Human Resources
-6.0% – $2,270,325 – Parks
-7.1% – $370,305 – Housing and Community Development
-7.8% – $199,342 – City Council
-8.6% -$1,302,294 – Finance and Administration
-8.7% – $764,635 – City Engineer
-29.9% – $15,056,355 – Grants and Subsidies
Government budgets are not just accounting sheets and ledgers. They are in fact moral document that speak to a city’s aspirations for the future and its vision of itself. Some of these numbers may have changed somewhat in budget hearings, but the priorities set out in it remain the same.