By Rosetta Miller Perry
The Tennessee Tribune has been asking for months, and not getting any clear answers or much response at all, about exactly what role Jefferson Street, and for that matter North Nashville, is going to play in the ongoing boom that has kept Nashville in the news and made it one of the country’s most talked about cities.
When you drive or walk down Jefferson Street today, or take a trip through the corridor area, you do see more development happening. There are various buildings under construction, condos, apartments. There are improvements continuing that promise to finally do something about water quality in this community. There are signs giving out phone numbers for folks to call if they are interested in renting any of the properties that keep going up almost every day, rentals of $1,200 or more for enough space to whip a cat in.
But when you get past the buildup and start asking some hard questions, there remain things that have yet to be answered. What percentage of all this development is being performed by Black contractors and/or Black people? We’re not talking about one or two people who pop up for press conferences and then vanish, but who is actually in charge and who will be benefiting from these properties once they are completed?
What percentage of this, if any, has been set aside for affordable housing? By affordable we’re not talking about the the fair market rents range from $700 to $1,503 a month average figure that is being cited now as the going rate for apartments in Nashville. We’re talking about housing for families with multiple children and working class jobs and incomes. Those folks aren’t looking for upscale condos. They’re also not students here for a few years, then moving on to some new place.
How many of these construction crews are employing people who live in these areas now? Are there any numbers being kept regarding whether any of the money that is being created by this development is being recycled into and through the North Nashville community? There is definitely gentrification going on in these areas. What plans are in place for people who get displaced or who face having to pay increased rents when the value of the land inevitable goes up as these new buildings spring up everywhere?
In addition, how much involvement did our leaders of Fisk, Meharry and TSU have in these projects? Would the City have excluded Belmont’s President when the school began its massive building and buying homes of its poor citizens who could not pay higher taxes to remain in the area? What thought, if any, has been given to how this may affect the North Nashville’s student bodies either positively or negatively? These are not just idle, random thoughts being tossed out to be arbitrary. Nor should anyone view them as signs the Tribune is opposed to development. We’ve been pushing for North Nashville to get its fair share of this activity for months. We’re just concerned about whether that is happening, and what impact it is going to have on the community, as well as how it affects those who’ve lived here their entire lives.
Meharry General, Citizens Savings Bank & Trust are important African historical institutions in our community along with the aforementioned colleges. There are churches, restaurants, funeral homes and other businesses whose owners need to be kept apprised as these new majority buildings emerge almost monthly. There are some encouraging signs, by the way, that the Tribune is glad to see. Both the 15th Avenue Baptist Church and Mt. Zion Baptist are involved on Jefferson Street. Mt. Zion announced plans for a multi-million dollar Dream Center designed to stimulate community involvement and activity with a mix of events, hospitality, recreation, fitness, and reading. There will be a New Level Community Development Corporation, an Oasis of Hope Counseling Center, and a state-of-the-art childcare facility. The Otey Family and Attorney Luvell Glanton have been longtime investors in the corridor area.
But no one should fool themselves into thinking that North Nashville and Jefferson Street are getting the same amount of attention and involvement, or that Fisk, TSU and Meharry are on the radar in the same fashion as Vanderbilt and Belmont. Even a cursory glance at what’s been happening around those campuses, particularly what’s going on in West End or over at 100 Oaks, to say nothing of the vast amount of construction all over Nashville, will show there’s still quite an imbalance in terms of resources and priority. That activity has in turn spurred attention and made those campuses more attractive to students. The Tribune feels that same thing could and should be happening for Jefferson Street, North Nashville, Fisk, Meharry and TSU. It won’t happen unless people continue to hold those in charge accountable and demand equity and fairness in terms of construction projects and development resources. Don’t ignore the possibilities for ideas and suggestions from the heads of these community institutions, and don’t overlook and neglect the potential that can and should be utilized within these neighborhoods whenever projects are being built in their areas. The Tribune is also disappointed that Black council persons are very guilty of neglecting the very area that many of them once traveled to attend TSU or Fisk University. If they can’t support Jefferson Street why expect another race to support our community.