A renter waits outside Davidson County General Sessions Court in November, waiting to see if she can work out a deal with her landlord to stay in her apartment.(Photo: John Partipilo)
As a new year begins, so does another wave of evictions, and for those seeking to prevent homelessness among Nashville’s most vulnerable populations, existing problems continue as well.
As the year 2021 sputtered to an end, Nashville’s court system closed for the holidays, as did Judge Rachel Bell’s Housing Resource Diversionary Court Program. Bell’s court has been critical in keeping Nashvillians housed by mediating with landlords.
The Metro Action Commission closed its HOPE rental assistance application on Dec. 14, which reopened this week on Jan. 18.
In the meantime, residents were still being evicted.
According to data collected by the Nashville Promise Zone, led by the Metro Development and Housing Agency, Antioch accounts for nearly 20% of all evictions over the past four months, with 117 occurring in December.
Housing advocates said tenants are still facing the same problems that have accumulated under Nashville’s competitive market and the economic struggles of the pandemic.
Throughout the past 40 years, waves of immigrants flocked to Nashville from cities nationwide due to the lower cost of living and affordable housing. Today, Nashville is home to a diverse Latino community and one of the nation’s largest Coptic Egyptian communities.
Historically, Antioch has housed Nashville’s diverse immigrant communities, allowing different ethnic groups to create their own communities, restaurants, religious institutions and grocery stores.
But demand for housing in Nashville caused prices to skyrocket even before the pandemic began, although it complicated the issue.
“Nashville’s most diverse region is going through the most upheaval and evictions,” said Lydia Yousief, director for Elmahaba, a Coptic-Egyptian interest organization.
While Metro Nashville officials and housing advocates rushed to plug a wave of evictions using local and federal resources, immigrants have struggled to have access to the same assistance.
Languages barriers continue to be an issue during eviction proceedings, said Melissa Cherry, an organizer with the People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing and Employment (PATHE), to the extent that “ people had no idea they were being evicted because the paperwork sent out doesn’t even use the word ‘eviction’ on it.”
“They do have a couple of translators that are consistently in the courtroom but obviously it’s not going to be representative of all the languages being spoken,” she added.
Others don’t even make it to the courtroom, and pressure from landlords has led some tenants to self-evict.
In one apartment complex, Elmahaba staff found that immigrants were living among poor conditions, in apartments with little to no regular maintenance while still continuing to pay rising rent prices.
On some occasions, residents reported being fined for minor issues, such as having Christmas lights on their balconies, but many refused to pursue legal aid.
Those who stayed reported being pressured to leave as landlords sought to sell apartment complexes to developers.
“They’re not getting evicted from paradise,” said Yousief, who believes apartment complexes are purposefully being neglected to force tenants out.
For those landlords willing to work with their tenants, resources exist, although with complications.
In Judge Bell’s court, workers sought to fast track as many open HOPE applications as they could before the end of the year, knowing landlords were less likely to participate in the mediation process with delays.
If tenants instead opted for their HOPE application to process, they faced an average wait of three months and could still be evicted during the waiting period.
“Because it was taking so long, lawyers were saying ‘my client would rather go ahead and evict them and get a new tenant in there than waiting to see if the process is going to work,’” said Cherry.
Tenants also complained that the HOPE application was difficult to navigate.
While the HOPE portal was closed for the holidays, MAC officials found 2,000 applications were duplicates and attempted to merge them with existing ones in order to speed up processing times.
According to Lisa McCrady, MAC spokesperson, processing times were largely dependent on when both landlords and tenants submitted all their paperwork.
In the meantime, special cases that were in court proceedings before the holidays were heard, and anyone that received an eviction notice were prepared for uploading when the portal opened on Tuesday.
As of Thursday, 2,902 applications are currently open, while 386 were processed during MAC’s closure.
MAC has used 100% of funds acquired through the both federal Emergency Rental Assistance Programs.
Although programs and advocates exist to help those facing evictions, there’s only so much they can do to combat Nashville’s more pressing problems.
Without affordable housing, Nashville’s vibrant immigrant communities could be forced to leave.
“That’s why housing is at the forefront of all these issues, because at the same time you hear immigrant advocates asking why immigrants are not receiving help and not receiving resources, the answer is because they don’t feel welcomed,” said Yousief.
“They can’t even live among you,” she added.
As Nashville continues to develop, Yousief hopes the well-worn apartment buildings of Antioch retain some semblance that her community, the Coptic Egyptians, and other immigrants once lived there.
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