This article discusses how many new market rate apartments have been built in Nashville in the last two years. There are thousands more coming on line by 2024.  In contrast, just 10% of the units built since 2019 in the Greater Nashville area are considered affordable.

NASHVILLE, TN – James Brown, 67, is happy. He has his teeth, good health, and his bible. For six years Brown lived near the Brookmeade Greenway on the Cumberland River. He left there eight months ago to be closer to work.

Unlike Daryl Duffy who couldn’t afford a house in Nashville, bought a house in Dickson County, and now commutes an hour to his job at Costco, Brown walks up the side of a hill next to an Interstate off ramp and is on the job in about a minute.

“Homeless people are the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life…and some of the worst people I’ve ever met, too,” he said.

Brown’s home is a 10X10 foot Coleman tent. It has a little front porch and an ADT security sign nailed to a nearby tree. The sign doesn’t scare burglars away. Someone stole his phone one day and rats raid his food at night so he has to keep it in a plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid. He doesn’t cook much. He takes it all in stride.

“I am a happy man now. I got my freedom. I got Jesus. I tell you without Jesus you can’t be happy because Satan will come in there and bring things to you. And we all are susceptible to it because we’re still in the flesh,” he said.

James Brown puts his faith in Jesus but locks up his food at night.

Brown oversees a handful of sign-holders on the traffic island by the light on Charlotte Pike so there is only one person working the spot at a time.  “So everybody gets an equal chance to make a few bucks,” Brown said.

A couple of hours holding a sign will usually net $15-$20. Brown gets $500 a month in social security. Unlike half the renters in Davidson County, Brown is not cost-burdened because he pays no rent at all. He is blessed that way.

Not so the people who live about a hundred yards away in a new apartment complex built on top of a hill overlooking the Cumberland River and Bell’s Bend on one side and Brown’s tent on the other.

There are six new apartment or condo developments within a half-mile of Brown’s digs. None of Nashville’s 2300 officially homeless could afford to rent any of those 2500 market-rate units. Open Table Nashville estimated there were at least 20,000 people experiencing homelessness in Nashville in 2017.

According to a 2020 Nashville Downtown Partnership report, Nashville continues “to grow in both size and quality”.  POLLICOM, an economic analysis firm, ranked Nashville’s economy 4th in the nation. In 2019 and 2020 it was #1. The company defines quality as the “standard of living” of the people who live and work in an area.

But the standard of living for about half Nashville’s renters and 20% of homeowners is not good. They are rent or mortgage burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

Why is this so? Because having a place to live is not a right, it’s a commodity. And real estate is booming; 81 people are moving here every day; homes for sale move quickly and prices are rising. The stock of housing units downtown increased from 8,453 in 2019 to 9,511 in 2020.

The report found market rate housing constitutes 96% and affordable/workforce 4% of the downtown housing mix (7416 vs. 309 properties). Rents are increasing and the occupancy rate is 93.4%, the highest in the country.

Affordable homes are as scarce as hen’s teeth in Davidson County. “It’s because of the cash investor,” said Eddie Latimer, CEO of Affordable Housing Resources.

After the crash in 2008 when so many single-family homes went into foreclosure, Wall Street investment firms began buying houses in the greater Metro Nashville area. The top four real estate investment firms in the country now own five thousand homes in Middle Tennessee, according to a Human Relations Commission report.

Meanwhile people with money from Texas, California, and even Japan are buying up condos and houses and they are moving to Music City in droves. More than 70% of them have jobs that pay over $80,000 a year.

“One thing we know for sure is that accelerating home prices are making it almost impossible for moderate and low-income borrowers to obtain affordable housing,” said Keith Canter, CEO of First Community Mortgage, one of the largest local mortgage lenders in Nashville.

There are just 219 single-family homes left downtown, 217 are in Hope Gardens, the last vestige of Black homeownership between Harrison St. and Jefferson St. Meanwhile, nine market rate projects are building 2.300 units by the end of 2022. Other projects in the pipeline will deliver an estimated additional 6,100 units downtown by 2024.

Between 2019 and the first quarter of 2021, 1,303 (10%) of the 12,719 new units built in the greater Nashville area were considered “affordable” housing, according to Greater Nashville Apartment Association (GNAA). Their numbers come from members who volunteer the data.

According to the 2019 American Community Survey, there are about 300,000 renters living in Nashville and half of them are cost-burdened. In Q1 2021, about 20,000 units were under construction downtown. They might as well be on mars because half of Nashville’s renters simply can’t afford them.

Two city employees have been creating a database of affordable and subsidized housing in Nashville. The project is a work in progress but the preliminary total of all units that have some kind of housing subsidy attached to them is somewhere between 25,000 and 32,000 units. The estimated need for affordable housing units in Nashville by 2030 is double the current supply.

It is difficult to count the number of available market rate units because it is constantly changing. If you could track that number and compare it to the supply of affordable housing it would be possible to make better housing policy decisions. It’s clear though that Metro has to stop building expensive developments and start building much more affordable ones or the housing crisis will only get worse for longtime residents.