Hours before city lawmakers passed an anti-gentrification ordinance with bipartisan, unanimous support last week, Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration led a last-minute push against the bill — including asking Metro Council President Markus Winkler to table it — The Courier Journal has learned.
“You can’t call me at 2 o’clock on a Thursday, for the first time, and let me hear that you’ve got concerns about something we’re doing. I mean, that’s not fair to us,” Winkler said, adding that Jeff O’Brien, the city’s economic director of economic development, asked him to hold off on the Nov. 9 vote.
“I think really the frustrating thing is it passed out of committee 5-0 and 3 (present votes) 10 days earlier. So, it’s not like it passed the day before on a 4-3 vote. You had time.”
The pressure also frustrated Republican Councilman Anthony Piagentini.
“A representative from Mayor Greenberg’s office called me at 2 p.m. that day, and indicated for the first time I had ever heard that they were, quote, “hard against” the ordinance,” he said. “It was surprising, to say the least, to get such an 11th-hour call from the Mayor’s Office regarding it.”
Speaking to The Courier Journal on Thursday, Mayor’s Office spokesman Kevin Trager said Greenberg had until Nov. 30 to decide whether to veto the ordinance and is “still reviewing the options.”
Winkler said the Greenberg administration’s concerns about the bill stemmed from fears it would send the wrong message to the development community, hurting Louisville’s development prospects as the mayor, a former real estate developer, said he will work toward “creating and preserving” 15,000 affordable housing units during his first term.
“I think there was a general sense the original version of the bill was not going to pass,” Winkler said. “My guess is they sort of stopped paying attention. Again, I don’t know, those are my words, not theirs. And then, (they) sort of were surprised by the new version, that it was likely to pass.”
In an interview on Thursday, O’Brien said the administration has concerns the ordinance could hinder development.
“I think what the ordinance does, while it does not require developments to go through an additional commission, what it does do is it creates some uncertainty, and it’s going to create some time in development projects. And we know that time and uncertainty kills development deals,” he said.
The anti-displacement ordinance, which passed to audience cheers 25-0 on Nov. 9, will create a “displacement assessment” matrix that will be used to assess whether local residents are at risk of being displaced by proposed developments that seek to use Metro Government resources.
That displacement matrix, which is to be drawn up with an academic institution, will indicate when a development is ineligible for Metro resources.
Additionally, the ordinance creates a nine-member anti-displacement commission that will review how the displacement assessment is being implemented and review discriminatory housing investigations by the Human Relations Commission and other Metro agencies.
Supporters of the ordinance hope it will combat gentrification and allow people to continue to afford to live in the neighborhoods where they have spent their lives.
Earlier versions of the ordinance — which was originally introduced by Independent Councilman Jecorey Arthur as the Historically Black Neighborhood Ordinance — gave that board the ability to determine whether proposed developments passed or failed the displacement assessment, and thus withhold Metro Government funds and resources.
Winkler said he had concerns over that board’s ability to shut down development, but worked on the bill with Arthur and came around to supporting its final version.
At an Oct. 3 Planning and Zoning Committee meeting concerning a previous version of the bill, O’Brien, the city’s economic development executive director, said the administration was taking steps on its own to combat displacement and said there were concerns “this ordinance might slow the mayor’s plan” to add 15,000 affordable housing units. He also asked that commercial properties being converted into residential units be excluded.
On Thursday, O’Brien told The Courier Journal he was concerned about an “overly broad” definition of Metro resources in the final ordinance. He said he did not know whether he specifically asked Winkler to postpone the vote on Nov. 9, but said he gave him several suggestions for changes to the ordinance, including asking for “more time” than the six months allowed in the ordinance for the creation of a displacement assessment matrix.
Councilman Andrew Owen, a Democrat, told The Courier Journal he was initially against the ordinance, but came around once he understood it to be for “informational purposes” about potential displacement. He said spoke with “five or six” members of Greenberg’s administration on Nov. 9 who were largely afraid the ordinance would harm development.
“They thought, like I did, that there’s the potential for the appearance that we’ve added another layer of bureaucracy in an already fairly difficult system,” he said. “So, they were afraid it was going to scare the few affordable housing developers that we have in this city, scare them away because of additional bureaucracy.”
He added: “I don’t think they loved the ordinance at the end.”
Arthur, who originally introduced the bill, said he had repeatedly reached out to the Mayor’s Office by phone, email and text about the legislation. He did not receive a call about it on Thursday, he said, but had spoken to colleagues who had.
“To try to turn around and stop it at the last minute is messed up,” he said.
Reach reporter Josh Wood at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JWoodJourno.