Facing displacement, Nashville renters protest real estate firm

May 02 2017
Posted by: Staff
Facing displacement, Nashville renters protest real estate firm

By: Amelia Ferrell Knisely

“As a mother, it’s a very stressful situation to not know where you’re going, for your kids to ask you, ‘Are we moving?’ Many nights, I’ve broken down and cried,” Idella Woodard said. A mother of two boys, she is worried about where she’ll live after a real estate firm's purchase of her apartment building in West Nashville has forced her to exit her home. 

Woodard joined fellow renters April 24 to protest in front of Covenant Capital Group, the firm that earlier this year notified tenants at Prestige Pointe and Premier West Apartments of non-renewal on their leases, and stated the property group would no longer be participating in the Section 8 voucher program.

Residents of Prestige Pointe and Premier West Apartments demonstrated outside of Covenant Capital Group April 24. Photo: Amelia Ferrell Knisely 

About 10 residents of both apartment complexes and their advocates held signs that read “Profit Over People” and “Renters Have Rights.” Tenants delivered a petition to Covenant CEO Govan White asking the firm to extend all leases to June 1, renovate the buildings without displacing residents, agree to no more than a $40 rent increase per lease term and continue participation in the Section 8 voucher program. 

Woodard, who was supposed to be out of her apartment days ago, is hoping for at least a 30-day extension so her sons can finish out the remaining few weeks of the school year without changing schools. 

Between the two complexes, more than 220 children will have to change school after residents are required to vacate the buildings. 

Virginia Tidwell, a resident, holds a sign at the demonstration April 24. Photo: Amelia Ferrell Knisely 

Virginia Tidwell, 71, attended the protest hoping to hear more options for her family, and worries that they won’t be able to find an affordable rental in Nashville on a fixed income. At this time, she isn’t sure where they will end up once they're required to leave.

“If you want to go up on the rent, we’re willing to pay it. But another apartment is going to cost us more,” she said. 

Jim Fraser, a Vanderbilt University associate professor and affordable housing researcher, was among protesters. He called Covenant’s operating model "predatory development.” 

“This is about capitalism. They prey on our community,” he said. “We need our government to take a strong position against Covenant Capital, who is basically running a business model that is premised on kicking people out of their homes in order for investors from around the world to make a profit quickly.”

He continued, “We need thousands of people to call the mayor’s office and let them know this is an issue. We want something that is going to produce thousands of units of affordable housing.”

Renters at Prestige Point in March rallied together and negotiated a 60-day lease extension. The same offer has not been extended to renters at Premier West. 

In a statement, White said the buildings  are in poor conditions and “have been in bankruptcy and foreclosure for years.” 

"Due to the urgent need for extensive renovation to both properties — both have uninhabitable units due to lack of upkeep prior to our ownership — we cannot extend leases further and nor can residents remain during these major construction projects.”

Covenant held a housing fair April 27-28 at Prestige Point in an effort to connect residents with housing opportunities.

According to Homes for All Nashville, a group advocating for the tenants, Covenant has a “history of displacement through non-renewal,” citing the 2015 purchase of the former James Robertson Apartments, which housed mostly elderly and disabled residents. The group sold the property a year later to a New Orleans-based real estate developer for twice what it originally paid. 

Cover photo: Idella Woodard (center) speaks to protest participants after reliving a petition to Covenant Capital's CEO. Photo: Amelia Ferrell Knisely 


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