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Project Nashville: Affordable Housing in Music City

Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. PHOTO: FOX 17 News Nashville

Project Nashville continues FOX 17's year long in-depth look into Nashville's growth and how it affects your safety and quality of life.

Project Nashville is examining what many are calling an affordable housing crisis; not enough housing to go around for the people who need it at a price they can afford.

Artist Kat Jones has been deeply poor and under the poverty line for most of her adult life. She's been living in Nashville for 12 years.

"I was effectively homeless, not living on the streets, but effectively homeless for about three years," Jones said.

After staying with friends, bouncing from place to place, Jones landed in affordable housing at 26th and Clarksville Pike in North Nashville. It's one of the many developments being bought and built up by Urban Housing Solutions. It is Nashville's largest non-profit provider of affordable housing.

"It does some good," said Rusty Lawrence, Executive Director of Urban Housing Solutions. "People need it and as the city grows, it's just growing out of its own affordability. So some agencies are going to have to do this or else we'll be in a real pickle."

A pickle, indeed. Lawrence said most of the people living in his organization's developments don't have a car and can only really afford rent that's around $600 a month.

"It's tremendous. People need to wait for years in order to get affordable housing," Lawrence said.

Online real estate database company Zillow finds the average monthly rent in November 2018 was nearly $1,500. The 2018 Vital Signs report put out by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce finds a growing number of Middle Tennesseans find it difficult to locate housing within their budgets.

As stated in the Vital Signs report, income for Middle Tennesseans is going up, but that's not enough.

"Residents struggle to find housing for many reasons: the pace of growth in Nashville and the addition of new residents has led to an imbalance in supply and demand of housing," the report says.

Furthermore, the report says the future success of Nashville and the surrounding areas relies on, "whether Middle Tennessee can figure out a way to embrace the new growth while ensuring residents who work within the region can also afford to live within the region."

Lawrence says for his business, they can't turn over new buildings fast enough.

"We have 1,200 units. We have 400 on our waiting list and we only turn over 15 per month," he said. The situation just as dire on the homepage of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) website. News articles highlighting wait list after wait list.

"It's not just about housing. There's so many things and avenues to work on," said lifelong Nashville native Zanetta Thompson. She too lives in affordable housing. Her only income is Social Security.

"When we dealt with housing developments [in the past], projects didn’t mean a place to stay. Project was something to help you move forward," Thompson said.

It's considered a cost burden if someone spends more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing. FOX 17 News took that theory back to Jones based off her income. When we looked on Zillow, there were no results based off what Jones could afford.

"I am devastated by that and I'm always trying to talk to people about that," Jones said.

Thanks to living in affordable housing, saving up and some luck in life, Jones will soon be moving out of affordable housing. But it weighs heavy on her knowing that others can't and will never be able to do the same in a city that continues to grow.

Lawrence said more funding is needed from both the public and private sectors to aid the affordable housing challenge in Nashville. Urban Housing Solutions gets its funding from HUD and other grants and loans.

"I think the city needs to step up and provide some opportunities for non-profits to do more and for for-profits to do more and for the city itself to do more," he said.

You can watch Project Nashville each Wednesday on FOX 17 News at 9 p.m. You can submit your ideas for Project Nashville on our website or call our tip line at 615- 259- 5631.

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