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FERRIER FILES: Affordable housing runs into roadblocks in Nashville

(Fox 17 News)

If you don't really quite understand what this affordable housing is, don't feel bad.

It is one of the most misunderstood ideas in the state of Tennessee, and that misunderstanding has hurt working people.

Sam Johnson loves to look out the window of his downtown apartment.

“This is called the Gulch, I call it the G," Johnson said.

It's a now typical Nashville story of an overlooked neighborhood ignited by development. One development leads to another, and before you know it the neighborhood becomes a playground for the affluent.

So how does a groundskeeper like Sam live the Gulch on a salary of around $15 dollars an hour?

“I couldn't do it," Johnson said. "I work hard. If it wasn't for this place, there is no way I could afford living down here."

Johnson lives at Laurel House, affordable housing in Nashville's Gulch neighborhood.

Surprised? Here's the thing, affordable housing isn't cheap housing. It's housing that the Tennessee Housing Development Agency subsidizes through tax credits. It’s the builder who gets the big discount in exchange for keeping rents down.

This apartment in the Gulch goes for under $700, and a two bedroom is capped at $943. The only catch is that single folks living here can’t make more than $31,000 a year. A couple can’t make more than $44,000 a year.

The truth is there are a lot of people in Nashville making that kind of money, and they are suffering.

“People are absolutely being fenced out of housing, not just downtown but everywhere," said Trish Greer from First Cumberland Properties. "There is a need everywhere you go for affordable housing. If you are making $15 an hour, you can't pay $1200 for rent."

While affordable housing is a perfect fit for expensive Nashville, it is the only city in Tennessee where it is failing. Millions of dollars go unused every year.

Ralph Perry is the executive director of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

“Here's what I think is going on," Perry said. "A lot of people when they hear the words affordable housing, they think of Cabrini Green, big high rise projects. If that's what you think, nobody wants that that! But that's not at all what we build; quality units for lower wage working people. The builder gets the subsidy to keep rents down. The building and the tenants are high quality."

Antioch recently turned down two projects like Laurel House, and now the money will go elsewhere, which is a sad reality for Nashville's working poor who need help.

“This is not the projects," Perry said. "It’s not public housing. It’s not a place for layabouts and troublemakers. These are people who are working hard not making a lot of money, and it gives them a secure place to live."

It's aimed to help people like Sam Johnson, who loves to look out his window in a neighborhood he never dreamed he could afford.

“Having a nice place to live is so important," Johnson said. "It is quality of life. It just takes so much stress away."

A recent survey by the city said 72 percent of Nashville residents are concerned about affordable housing.

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