Public Housing Residents Are Asking Questions. Are You?

We are residents of public housing. We are mothers, fathers and grandparents. We are working, formally and informally, to support our families and improve our community. We care about the future of our neighborhood and our neighbors. Any day now, you’ll be hearing about how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved the Metropolitan Development and Housing Administration’s (MDHA) request to convert all of Nashville’s public housing to place based section 8 housing through a program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). What does that mean? Right now, Nashville’s public housing is owned by the federal government, and managed by MDHA. Under RAD, MDHA becomes the landowner, allowing them to use the land as collateral to borrow money and fund maintenance and/or redevelopment projects. Why does that matter? RAD could radically change the lives of more than 14,000 people living in Nashville’s public housing today, and the opportunities for housing for thousands of families in the future. Whether that change is for the better remains to be seen.
     RAD is the first step towards the redevelopment of James Cayce Homes — home to over 2000 residents of East Nashville. While the redevelopment plans sound good, residents are concerned. We have been asking MDHA questions, like: How will MDHA involve Cayce residents in the redevelopment? Will the redevelopment happen all at once — which will require at least temporary displacement of over 2000 people — or section by section, which will minimize displacement? What kinds of relocation support will MDHA provide residents? As Cayce residents, we recently attended an MDHA Board meeting to ask these, and other, questions– none of which were answered sufficiently. Residents want to be involved in decisions that affect our families’ future. Nashville — will you advocate for residents’ involvement in the future of our neighborhood?
     RAD doesn’t just affect Cayce Homes — it affects the future of affordable housing in all of Nashville — and all of us should be asking questions. Public housing as it stands now is guaranteed to remain affordable long-term. RAD will transform this permanent stock of affordable housing into housing that is only required to be affordable for 20 years. However, the city could adopt a longer affordability term. At a time where Nashville is facing increasing needs for affordable housing — we need to do all we can to preserve the affordable homes we have now. Nashville — will you preserve affordable housing long-term?
     There is another risk with RAD. If MDHA borrows money to redevelop areas like Cayce Homes, and can’t pay back its loan, the bank will take the land and is not required to maintain affordable housing. To safeguard against this, the city can adopt a formal policy that MDHA will only seek HUD approved loans. This way, if MDHA cannot service their loans at least the land returns to be held in trust by HUD, rather than a private bank. Nashville — will you protect your investment in affordable housing?
     Cayce residents, like all residents, want to know we have a place to raise our families. We want good jobs, a grocery store, strong schools and improved transportation. The redevelopment could guarantee housing, jobs, and improved services, and we plan to do all we can to make sure that it does. Growth in Nashville doesn’t have to leave anybody behind. Nashville – will you ensure neighborhood development that helps all people thrive?

—The Cayce United Leadership Team: Sonaida Adams, Darrell Franklin, Marilynn Greer, Vernell McHenry, Constance Rhea

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