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Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon on second-term priorities: housing, public safety and mental health

Mayor Indya Kincannon, Jacqui Sieber, and Kristen Farley speak during an interview on WUOT
Hayden Antal
Mayor Indya Kincannon, Jacqui Sieber and Kristen Farley speak during an interview on WUOT

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon was elected for her second term on Aug. 30, winning more than 57% of the votes in a four-way race. Kincannon governed through the COVID-19 pandemic during her first term, and now faces challenges in housing affordability and availability.

The mayor said part of the solution is to create more so-called missing middle housing, a term that refers to duplexes and apartment complexes that can be more affordable and plentiful than single family homes.

“We’re going to address that starting next week,” she said in an interview. “I’m confident that the planning commission will review and approve it because I know that the staff’s expertise supports this.”

She said rent control is a “long shot" as it would require action on the part of the state legislature.

Housing for those experiencing homelessness is also a priority, according to the mayor. One report showed a 50% increase in the homeless population in 2022 over the prior year.

“I have a lot of compassion for our unhoused population,” she said. “We are never going to arrest our way out of this issue.”

Kincannon said the city’s strategy will be further partnerships with the Office on Housing Stability, Knox County and other nonprofits that serve the homeless. The city recently opened Caswell Manor at the intersection of East Fifth Avenue and Winona Street, which will house people experiencing chronic homelessness.

“We’re making progress,” the mayor said. “But we also need the community’s help and the state and federal support for addressing the opioid epidemic, because sometimes once people are evicted and lose their housing, then that leads to issues with addiction.”

Kincannon pointed to places including Minneapolis and Montgomery County, Maryland, where affordable housing initiatives have been successful.

“We’re studying and seeing what might make sense to bring some of those [ideas] to Knoxville.”

The mayor said the Knox County Health Department is the entity in the best position to help coordinate efforts among the city’s public and private agencies that work on issues of addiction and mental health.

“I agree that coordination would be good. You know, there's always room for improvement on that.”

Knoxville’sPublic Safety Complexon the former St. Mary’s campus will also expand to include an urgent care clinic and a facility for short-term mental health stabilization. The mayor said it should open in the next year to 18 months, and will receive some funding from local hospitals.

An additional public safety initiative cited by Kincannon was the Office of Community Safety, and the work with Turn Up Knox, an organization dedicated to interrupting cycles of gun violence. The organization recently received a $450,000 contract for services from the city to fund salaries and operating costs.

“It’s a unique skill,” Kincannon said. “These are people who are in the community who are trusted and who have had life experience that helps them interrupt the violence in a way that a pastor may not be able to, for example.”

Following the abrupt resignation of Brookly Sawyers Belk from the Knoxville Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, Kincannon confirmed a new search is underway.

“We need that person. We need someone to fill that role. The job requires a law degree and someone who understands that nature of the job and what KPD needs.”

Kincannon also recently introduced the Vision Zero Plan with the goal of eliminating traffic injuries and deaths by 2040.

“I think the one of the biggest barriers is in our culture today, we accept serious injury and fatalities from car crashes, as the cost of being alive and being able to get around, and that's not okay,” she said.

Road diets, which are relatively low-cost solutions to address road safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, have already been implemented on a number of Knoxville roadways, including stretches of Cumberland, Magnolia and Central. Kincannon did not rule out the possibility of a road diet solution on Kingston Pike along the stretch where resident Ben Kredich was recently killed.

“That’s certainly something I’d be interested in exploring. But I don’t know how easy that would be. Kingston Pike is a state route, so any changes we make, it’s not just up to the mayor, we have to work with TDOT [Tennessee Department of Transportation].”

Kincannon said she will also prioritize the development of parks that include bathroom facilities and water fountains, as well as greenways and sidewalks.

“On any given day, most people in Knoxville are not experiencing a crisis…but they are out there biking, walking, enjoying our parks. So continuing to make improvements and preserving and maintaining the parks and greenways we already have …That’s what makes a great city.”

Jacqui was born and raised in Pittsburgh. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021 with a bachelor’s in communications. Outside of work, she likes to go to baseball games, walk dogs at her local animal shelter, and hike.
Melanie is WUOT’s interim news director and is a distinguished lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee, where she has taught reporting, editing and media entrepreneurship since 2012. Before teaching, Melanie worked for Bloomberg News for 11 years in a variety of cities and roles, from managing the multimedia desk to producing television. In between her journalism jobs, Melanie worked as director of information services at Opera America, putting her M.A. in musicology, from Montreal’s McGill University, to good use.