North Nashville home damaged by tornado. Photo by AnGel Sims

Community Leaders Urge Home Owners to Beware of Property Scams

By Cynthia Yeldell Anderson

NASHVILLE, TN — There is growing concern in North Nashville about predatory practices targeting landowners impacted by the recent tornados. 

Many predominately African American neighborhoods in North Nashville such as the Osage/Fisk Park area and Historic Buena Vista suffered severe damage from storms. 

NAACP Nashville Branch President Rev. Keith Caldwell said there are contractors riding around trying to buy houses from older black people.

“There are all kinds of dubious schemes to get houses from under people who may not be literate,” Caldwell said. “People are experiencing trauma. We are addressing that and urging them not to sink into becoming a victim.” 

Grass Roots organizations such as the NAACP and The Equity Alliance are urging homeowners not to sell and have organized a series of community meetings to disseminate information about resources available to help rebuild.

North Nashville has been a hotspot for gentrification in recent years with many developers purchasing property at low costs only to turn around and build upscale housing in its place.

Charlane Oliver, Executive Director of The Equity Alliance, created the hashtag #DontselloutNorf which has been trending on Facebook and Twitter. 

“It’s a calling signal to people who live in North Nashville to help them understand their options before selling their property,” Oliver said.

Oliver said she saw drones hoovering over North Nashville which made her skeptical of what could be coming down the pipeline later as far as gentrification. 

“What I fear is that we can have a situation where vulnerable residents who don’t have a lot in savings fall prey to developers who will offer them discounted rates for their property,” Oliver said.  “North Nashville is the last oasis in the city for black homeowners including myself. This is prime real estate. We want to reap the benefits of the growth as well.”

An’Gel Sims, Principal Broker and Owner of Suburban and Urban Real Estate Services at 10th and Jefferson, is a longtime resident of North Nashville. She has seen developers prey on many residents over the years and believes the scenario is even more likely now, because of the devastation.

“In a disaster, when people lose their most valuable asset – their home- they may want to do the thing that makes the most sense, which is take the money and run; but they don’t have anywhere to go because of the lack of affordable housing.”

Sims said she’s tried to assist clients who have taken what they thought was enough money to purchase another home only to see them go from homeowners to renters.

“When you sell your home in North Nashville you’ve basically gone from being wealthy to poverty because when you rent, you’re making someone else rich,” Sims said.

Oliver said the #DontselloutNorf movement has become the launch of a larger advocacy effort around making sure local government is upholding its responsibility to insure affordable housing in North Nashville.

“Home ownership is one of the best ways of creating wealth,” Oliver said. “Black homeowners should be able in an equitable way to benefit from this hot real estate market. Home ownership will allow our people to have economic mobility and build generational wealth.”

Attorney Ashley L. Upkins, Managing Partner of The Cochran Law Firm-Nashville, said insurance scams, fake charity scams, FEMA scams and what she calls “the bad contractor,” are more prevalent during natural disasters.

Upkins recommends the following best practices to avoid potential scams.

“Do not respond to unsolicited calls, text, emails or in-person visits and certainly do not give any of your personal information,” Upkins said.

To avoid “the bad contractor,” Upkins suggests that you do your own independent research by internet or phone, asking for referrals and verifying contact information. Upkins recommends interviewing more than one contractor. Additionally, she recommends checking with the Better Business Bureau, reading the contractor’s online reviews and ensuring that the contractor is adequately bonded and licensed for the specific work. 

“While it’s not a crime per se, we see contractors target minorities and senior citizens after natural disasters saying they are able to do all sorts of work that the contractor doesn’t have the proper licensing or limits to do,” Upkins said. “The bad contractor receives payment and doesn’t do the job, doesn’t finish the job or doesn’t properly do the job.”

Upkins advised that when you are ready to enter into an agreement with a contractor, make sure that the agreement is in writing, it’s detailed, and signed by both parties. 

“Often clients have a copy of the agreement that the client signed, but not a copy of the agreement with the contractor’s signature,” Upkins said.

Upkins recommends that if you believe you are the victim of a scam, you should file a report with Metro Nashville Police Department or the FEMA Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721. Anyone who needs guidance on how to report fraud may contact The Cochran Law Firm-Nashville at 615-651-7451.

In addition to damaged homes, Sims said, many black churches and black-owned businesses along the Jefferson Street corridor where severely damaged by the tornado.

At least seven black churches suffered major damages from the tornado including: Mt. Hopewell Baptist Church, St. John AME Church and Mt. Bethel Missionary Baptist Church which were destroyed, Sims said. Damaged business in the Historic Buena Vista area included: Mary’s Old Fashion Barbeque, Smith’s Wrecker Service and the Garden Brunch Café.

Sims said the Small Business Association (SBA) is establishing a business recovery center at Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church.

Groups such as the Nashville NAACP are acting as information clearing houses to point people to resources for assistance such as home repairs.

Sims said education is key and she is urging residents not to make any on the spot decisions and to always consult an expert before selling property.

“I want people to understand, there is hope and you have options,” Sims said. “Your home is your place of security and wealth for your family and generations to come. We’ve survived eminent domain, we’ve survived Jim Crow, we’ve survived the 2010 flood and we will survive this 2020 tornado. North Nashville is strong.”