NASHVILLE — Raydhira Abreu, a middle-class Nashvillian who works as a leasing agent for an affordable housing developer in the city, says that without being able to live in one of her company’s units, she would be forced to leave the city.
“Even with the money I’m making now, I don’t think I could afford to live here,” she said. “We have zero apartments, and every day there’s more and more demand.”
Nashville is rising in national profile and quite literally: 30-story condominium towers are popping up downtown, modest homes are being torn down and replaced with 3,000-square-foot modern houses in East Nashville, and new restaurants, bars and clubs are opening seemingly every week.
While the city is booming, incomes haven’t kept pace with costs. A city studyfound that the median family income in the Nashville area rose 6 percent from 2000 to 2013 but rents rose 21 percent for four-bedroom apartments and 39 percent for one-bedrooms.
About 19 percent of city residents live below the poverty line — a rate slightly higher than for the rest of the nation — but that doesn’t take into account the higher cost of living in the city. Activists and experts say the boom is pricing out low- and middle-income Nashvillians and that the city needs to seriously ramp up its affordable housing programs if it hopes to avoid displacement.
The city is one of the fastest-growing rental markets in the nation, according to housing website Zillow, and occupancy rates were 98 percent in 2014. And unlike some other fast-growing cities like New York and Washington, Nashville doesn’t require developers to set aside units for affordable housing in new buildings that receive tax or other subsidies.
Nashville’s economic rise can be traced at least in part to cooperation between the city and the Chamber of Commerce to draw a slew of companies of all kinds downtown. Their plan, called Partnership 2020, has the goal of attracting about 120,000 new people to the region, creating 50,000 jobs and getting at least 150 companies to relocate from other parts of the country and state by 2016. Nashville’s current population is about 635,000.
So far, it seems to be working. The city has gone from having a median household income 5 percent below the U.S. average to 7 percent above it since 2011, according to the Chamber. And major companies have been moving to Nashville in droves.
Nashville’s bids to boost economic growth have been largely successful but have come at a price. One of the biggest efforts was the 350,000-square-foot Music City Center, a convention center downtown that cost Nashville $623 million. The city has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, including to the ABC TV series “Nashville” and most recently a $50 million break to tire manufacturer Bridgestone to woo the company downtown from its suburban headquarters.
But in some places — a dilapidated apartment building for seniors downtown, an overcrowded Section 8 apartment in the east or at Operation Stand Down, a veterans’ assistance nonprofit in the southern section of the city, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.