This is the 4th in the Tribune’s series on Nashville’s affordable housing crisis. This story focuses on tenants in an apartment complex in the Nations and Section 8 tenants who are being driven out by the landlord.
NASHVILLE, TN – Village West, a 288-unit apartment complex in the Nations, is turning out its Section 8 tenants to make renovations and then jack up the rents. Some tenants have been there for decades.
Gary Williams works in Vanderbilt’s housekeeping department and takes the bus to work. He has lived at Village West for a long time. When he rented his apartment in 1996 it cost $360/mo. The same one-bedroom apartment he has lived in for 25 years now costs him $900/mo.
“You look at all the rents around, what’d you expect?” he said. The neighborhood where Williams lives, between 44th Ave and 51st Ave, is being developed. It is no longer a working class neighborhood of small frame houses and cheap apartments.
The Nations has become quite trendy with new houses for rent just 10 minutes from downtown and around the corner from Village West. It was built in 1969. New or old, there is no such thing as a low-rent district in Nashville anymore.
Williams is okay with his lease. He gets along well with the property management staff. Community Manager Desiree Williams is not authorized to talk about the property she manages. “I’m a single-mother. I need this job,” she said. She provided a telephone number.
Calls to Brookside Properties’ main office were not returned. There are 30 tenants at Village West who pay part of their rent with Section 8 vouchers. They are no longer wanted. They are disabled, elderly, Black or Brown; some have kids, some don’t. They were told in February they have to clear out.
According to a disabled man, who declined to give his name, his neighbor was offered $1000 to move. The disabled man is a Section 8 tenant. He has to be out by December and he’s having a hard time finding another place.
Three of the apartments on the first floor of his building are vacant. Through broken blinds the detritus former tenants left behind can be seen scattered on the floor.
Sonia Baiza moved here with her two teenage sons in 2019. Baiza works at Pinnacle Bank. Her furniture was in a rental truck in the parking lot on the day she moved in.
“They did a criminal background on me. They did an extensive background check of my employment history. I was qualified. I was approved I paid a security deposit and the day I came in with a money order for the keys, there was a big problem,” Baiza said.
The manager wouldn’t give her the keys without more documentation.
“I have never in my entire life, in every other place I have rented, been asked for my children’s birth certificates and social security numbers,” she said. Baiza didn’t like being pushed around but she complied.
“Mexicans, disabled, and Black folks that‘s over here. That’s all this neighborhood has been for many years. Now the new owners, they’re trying to remodel. Once they finish remodeling, I’m going to end up moving to another apartment,” said Frederick Sherell.
Sherell is a cook at the Longhorn Steak House. He works the day shift and has lived at Village West for five years. He used to have a one-year lease for $826/mo. The complex was sold in 2016 and now his lease only runs for six months.
“Every six months it’s going to go up another $127, $1027 come August,” Sherell said. That is $30 more than renovated 1-bedroom apartments cost at Village West now.
“They just told me I will have an opportunity to move to a new one if I want to stay by the time my lease is up,“ he said. In the meantime, Sherell is being gouged. He is Black but that does not matter. His landlord is squeezing every last dime from all its tenants and hoping to get more affluent ones once the ‘undesirables” are gone.
San Francisco passed tenants’ rights legislation 42 years ago by creating a rent board. Tenants like Sherell can take complaints to a judge who often rules in their favor. The lawsuits, which take a long time to be heard, have nevertheless stabilized rents for tenants who have rent-controlled apartments and landlords can’t do what is happening to the tenants at Village West.
But this is Nashville where city leaders brag about how fast the city is growing. They don’t talk about what an unregulated real estate market has done to low-income tenants, to the disabled, and to the elderly. It is driving them into homelessness.
Williams, Baiza, and Sherell are not Section 8 renters. They will not be forced out as long as they can pay higher rents every six months. Once a lease is up, landlords can tell their Section 8 tenants that they will no longer accept vouchers and force them to leave. People with vouchers can also be priced out of their apartments because of limits on their subsidy.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses income and fair market rent (FMR) calculations to determine eligibility for its Section 8 program. The latest FMR for a one-bedroom in Nashville is $1,031. When rents exceed FMR, HUD will subsidize them but there is a caveat.
“Section 8 participants may rent a unit where gross rent exceeds FMR, but they do have to pay the amount above FMR themselves. On initial move-in for a unit where gross rent exceeds FMR, they must have sufficient income to pay amount above FMR, and we can’t approve an initial lease where the family will have to pay more than 40% of their income for rent and utilities,” said Norman Deep. He is Director of Rental Assistance with the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA).
Although Village West rents don’t exceed FMR now, six months from now they probably will. The voucher program with privately owned apartments is voluntary. So either way, Section 8 tenants at Village West are out of luck.
The Metro Action Commission is helping tenants avoid eviction if they are behind in rent because of COVID-19. (See Rental Assistance). Section 8 renters at Village West are being forced out of their apartments regardless. Metro Social Services help residents find affordable housing but it’s scarce.