Shelbyville, TN – Renters fed up with high rent and hazardous conditions will hold a Public Hearing Saturday, August 26th at the Shelbyville Town Square to expose the worsening housing crisis and present urgently-needed solutions. Local government officials, housing advocates, and community leaders have been invited and the Bedford County Listening Project will present a report, Defending our Homes: Addressing the Housing Human Rights Crisis in Rural Middle Tennessee, built from 170 in-depth interviews with local renters. The hearing will include the findings of the report, renters’ testimonies, and responses from city and county officials.
Currently Shelbyville is in the midst of a renting crisis of skyrocketing rents –rising 31% in the last year alone– and a lack of repairs to persistent unsafe housing conditions. These conditions are well-known across the country but the media rarely covers the struggles and displacement of renters in rural areas. The BCLP has been advocating for changes to better protect renters in Shelbyville since 2018, and on August 26th will announce a priority list of recommendations and a “Renters Bill of Rights” for the local government to act upon.
From February to August 2023, the Bedford County Listening Project (BCLP) spoke with over 1,000 renter households in Shelbyville through door-to-door visits and meetings. During these visits, the BCLP team conducted in-depth interviews about the escalating rental housing crisis, and found that 46% of renters surveyed spend more than half of their income for housing, and 10% pay nearly all of their income on rent. This leaves many working families and individuals burdened with unaffordable housing costs that mean skipping meals and healthcare.
The report tells stories of Shelbyville landlords buying properties as quick investments and then neglecting their properties, leading to hazardous living conditions that residents are loath to report because of the constant threat of retaliatory eviction. As one young couple with a 5-week old baby, living in a complex bought by out-of-town landlords using public financing during the pandemic, shared, “Last week the water was coming out of the taps coal black, and my grandpa said that we should call the city and ask them to test it, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to risk the landlord getting mad at us for calling the city or testing the water.”
In the report, renters describe discrimination as commonplace, and reveal a widespread perception that landlords make their own rules while city and court officials look the other way. One Shelbyville nurse, who was spending over 50% of her income on housing and is now homeless, said her landlord evicted her for having a baby. Another couple renting at the recently-purchased Magnolia Village apartments said, “We were told we couldn’t have a lease because of a felony conviction on our record, but they let us move in anyway without a lease; now we’ve been paying $1240 a month for over a year with no lease to protect us, no fridge for a year, and no heat in the apartment all winter.” The couple and their young child were evicted less than a month later.
The event on the 26th will include in-person testimonies, an immersive art installation including anonymous testimonies from renters about their experiences with abusive landlords, responses from city officials, and opportunities for interviews by the press.
For more information on Bedford County Listening Project, the public hearing, and pre-event interviews with renters and the report’s author, contact : Tristan Call, 615-424-0486; Sophia Tillett, 931-212-7801, or on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/bedfordcountylisteningproject/