Facing Displacement, Residents At One Nashville Housing Complex Organized And Fought Back

Feb 28, 2017

When a developer bought a large affordable housing complex in Nashville’s Edgehill neighborhood, residents worried they might lose their homes. And they had good reason. Across the city, developers are buying up buildings, remodeling them and raising the rents.

But before that could happen, these residents banded together, formed a tenants’ union and asked the buyer to talk. And much to their surprise, the new owner agreed.

In October, Elmington Capital Group, which manages nearly 1,000 low-income apartments in the region, purchased the Park at Hillside for $20.3 million.

It’s a sprawling 290-unit complex where many residents like Tangela Bratton, 50, pay their rent with the help of a Section 8 voucher. She worried about the change of ownership.

“I’ve been homeless for a long time. I slept on a lot of couches all over the city,” she says. “And it’s almost like thinking back to those days. Going back to that.”

So she and a number of other tenants decided to mobilize. They wanted to air their worries and get some sort of guarantee that they’d be able to stay. “I don’t mind growth, but I want to grow with my city too,” Bratton says.

Elmington agreed to meet with the group to discuss their concerns and requests.

“It was a welcome surprise to me,” Bratton says of the meeting. “Because it was like unheard of to me. Like, what? They really want to hear what we have to say?”

So about 30 residents came together and drafted a letter. It has 17 requests, including keeping rent low, capping rental increases, installing cameras and establishing a tenant-operated childcare facility. Residents say they don’t expect to get everything, but they’re optimistic.

In a statement to WPLN, Elmington said they welcome the meetings.

“Elmington is committed to working with current tenants to ensure they are satisfied moving forward,” says Ben Brewer, a partner at Elmington Capital. “Their ideas are a vital part of the process."

Those helping with negotiations still know they’re dealing with a private developer with its eye on the bottom line.

“Unlike many developers they at least have opened the opportunity for residents to come to the table,” says Austin Sauerbrei of Homes For All Nashville, the tenant organizing group.

The lawyers and tenants’ rights advocates say they’ve never worked on anything quite like this: Where a group of residents negotiate with an incoming developer about the future of the complex.

For resident Fatimah A-Hakam, 45, whose rent is also subsidized with a government voucher, she worried about finding another safe and affordable neighborhood. A-Hakam is a widow raising Amera, her 3-year-old daughter, all by herself.

“Would we have somewhere to live?” A-Hakam wonders aloud. “Not just how much it would be. But would we have somewhere to live?”

She’s sure Elmington’s plan is to eventually tear the complex down and rebuild it. But today, A-Hakam is more hopeful that if that happens, she’ll have a say in how it’s done.