Renters Unite: Nashville’s Displaced Share Stories Online in Advocacy Campaign

Sep 14 2016
Posted by: The Contributor
Renters Unite: Nashville’s Displaced Share Stories Online in Advocacy Campaign

By: Amelia Ferrell Knisely

“I was born and raised in Nashville... But over the past two and a half years, I’ve been displaced three times by developers buying up properties and then getting rid of all the residents.”
“I’ve been on a public housing waiting list, I’ve been on a Section 8 waiting list, I’ve been on an apartment waiting list… It’s just a waiting list.”

“When you’re able to go to school, get your education, work, be able-bodied and homeless… How does that happen? This is what Nashville homeless looks like now.”

These are lines from Nashville residents  –  some homeless, some displaced, some doubled up with friends or family  –  who are sharing their stories online after being forced from their homes due to rising rents, unjust evictions or neglectful landlords. Their stories are told in videos, mostly captured with cell phones, on a Facebook page titled “I’VE BEEN DISPLACED IN 615,” a social media campaign overseen by advocacy group Homes For All Nashville.

“We’re trying to get the directly impacted residents  –  primarily renters, primarily people of color, primarily folks who aren’t high income earners,” said group member Austin Sauerbrei. The five-month-old organization has about 30 members, most of whom are displaced renters. Homes For All Nashville is attempting to build a network of renters in Nashville, focusing on those who have been forced out of rentals due to affordability or landlord issues.

Sauerbrei explained, “The goal is to allow folks experiencing this to have a platform to get their satires out to a wider audience, to raise public awareness of the actual faces behind the talk of affordability and workforce housing. Part of our strategy is broader awareness, so we thought: what would it look like to get some video interviews (and) some testimonials of folks who have been displaced?”
“The first video we posted got 300 shares and 25,000 views. That kind of surprised us.”
The stories on the page have different chapters: the reasons the families have been evicted, the explanation of how the family’s breadwinner was suddenly without income, the details of how hard it can be to get back on your feet when you don’t have a consistent place to sleep at night.

One video features a middle-aged woman and native Nashvillian who was displaced three times due to developers coming in and buying the properties. “I’m here saying this has to stop and we have to get involved … This is a disgrace that this is happening here,” she said.

In another video, a 53 year-old veteran detailed how he was injured while doing construction work, sending him into a downward spiral resulting in homelessness. “How am I supposed to find rent with $400 a month?,” he said, referring to his government assistance. “You can’t find a reasonable rent in Nashville.”

Despite different reasons behind evictions and varied stories of negligent landlords, the stories attach faces to a now widely publicized problem in Nashville: a lack of affordable housing.
“The average rent for a two bedroom apartment is $1495/month,” a video says with text splashed over a familiar “tall and skinny” construction scene. “This means the average person needs to earn at least $25 an hour to afford rent. Can YOU afford rent?”

Nashville leaders have discussed and passed legislation (Metro council recently signed off on a bundle of bills aimed at increasing affordable housing  –  see page 2.) in an effort to combat the rising housing and apartment costs associated with Nashville’s “it city” status. There’s also a decrease in land available for development, jacking up costs for developers.

According to an analysis of census figures and foreclosure data by the Associated Press, the number of Nashville’s stressed renters  –  those spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs  –  increased from 2009 to 2014, climbing to 47 percent.

The increase in rent has pushed some residents from their rental homes, located near downtown and by their workplaces, to the outskirts of the city, spurring additional costs for transportation to employment. In the worst cases, renters had no affordable options or enough in savings to put a deposit on another place, resulting in homelessness.

Sauerbrei and his wife have been displaced three times due to rent hikes. “To me, that was a wake-up call. We’re in a somewhat stable place and we’re getting pushed out,” he said. “What is it like for people who earn less than us?”
At the national level, Homes For All aims to protect affordable housing and pushes for policies that protect renters. Sauerbrei and his team at the Nashville branch are collecting the videos as part of the national group’s initiative to develop a specific report for each city.

The group is also seeking to share stories of renters who have been victims of unfair evictions, negligent landlords and rental legal troubles.

Kennetha Patterson, a mother of five, is now without a home due to an eviction that came after she was injured in a car accident and fell behind on her rent. Despite continuing to pay rent for her apartment in Edgehill, she was evicted after she was unable to pay the full total owed from missing one month’s rent. Despite months of continuing to make payments, the eviction process came after Patterson requested a significant repair to her bathtub. With only 14 days to move out, Patterson and her family are now doubled up with a family in Antioch, a significant distance from her husband’s job and her kids’ schools.
“We were wrongfully evicted and felt like trash. We weren’t given a chance,” Patterson said. She’s a part of Homes For All Nashville and oversees the media campaign.
“We’re running out of room here, but there’s plenty of luxury being built up. We’re natives of Nashville and we deserve to grow with Nashville as well.”
“Everybody is valuable. Everybody deserves a fair shot. Nashville is the Volunteer State -- why not lend a helping hand to each other instead of ‘profit over people’?”
Patterson, along with Sauerbrei and others in the group, will continue to collect stories of displacement ahead of Renters Day of Action on Sept 22, a national action day planned in over 50 cities including Nashville and Memphis.

“The renters should advocate for themselves because a lot of the struggles come from people not being able to have a voice in the process,” Sauerbrei said. “(The) people being affected aren’t the ones that come up with the solutions. If there’s going to be any long-term systemic change, it has to be those affected by the crisis. They should be the ones leading the charge.”
Patterson added, “It’s not a black thing. It’s an all people thing. It’s a green money thing. It affects all classes. I see a lot of people experiencing it that don’t have a voice.”
More information about the Renters Day of Action will be shared on the Homes For All Nashville Facebook page. Displaced renters are encouraged to share their stories in videos on the I’ve Been Displaced in 615 Facebook page.

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