Well, that was fast.
A week after I wrote a story for this newspaper documenting the city's spectacular pace of home teardowns ("Demolition Derby," Dec. 19), I became one of the statistics. My landlord informed my roommate and me that our Edgehill apartment is scheduled for demolition. We can be out by the spring or confront the wrecking ball.
In many ways, we saw this coming. The homes of our neighbors have in recent months been leveled for new units; a new police precinct is rising from the ground right down the street; and our all-too-cozy living quarters nestled comfortably between 12South and Hillsboro Village always seemed too good for the price. And yet holding my landlord's letter telling us that it's been a pleasure having us as tenants and that "it is with regret that we have to notify you" still provokes a feeling of angry helplessness. Having to uproot to clear the way for posher residents feels unjust.
At the same time, though, my roommate and I were part of the gentrification wave that made our displacement possible, just as Jane Jacobs and her intellectual compatriots unintentionally pushed out the working class from Greenwich Village in the '60s by making it a cool place for young urbanites. When my roommate, who runs the creative space Fort Houston, and I relocated to the neighborhood, our dollars poured into the purveyors of funky-fusion tacos and 1950s-throwback coffee shops that blossomed here to serve guilt-wracked newcomers like us. We unwittingly drove up assessed values and rents and culturally gentrified the corners of a community that is at once a beneficiary and casualty of its location.
The outcome for the other eight or so tenants on my block is more dire. Nearly all of them are middle-aged African-American bachelors who have called their modest brick apartment units home for many years. Saul, who lives with his elderly mother, is moving back to Chattanooga to be with family. Next door, Wayman, who moved in around 2006, is moving to North Nashville with his mom until he finds his own digs. "Moving back in with your folks at age 47 is a hard thing, dude," he told me.
Living with low rent in a nice neighborhood gets comfortable quickly. But once market forces disrupt that leisure, equal replacements prove elusive. A Craigslist search for comparable apartments in my neighborhood yields units going for three to four times what my roommate and I now pay every month. Affordable rent is a reality if you're willing to venture to the city's spread-out periphery — though once the hike in transportation cost is calculated, the real savings can seem insignificant.
When I rang Paul Johnson of the Housing Fund recently about my situation, he assured me that it's a predicament a growing number of middle-class Middle Tennesseans are facing. "Once you get above a certain income level, there's not a lot of advocacy and lobbying," he explained. "There's a gap for those who are moderate income and maybe could have been homeowners in the past, but right now are being priced out of that." In Edgehill, Johnson calls the current development moment "second-wave gentrification." The neighborhood has what developers cheerfully call a "mixed community," which in reality means that condo-residing yuppies live next to blue-collar folks who have far deeper roots.
A marketing pro might say this blending creates a "dynamic" neighborhood with real "grit." Day to day, though, it can set the stage for fraught class wars over parking availability and the practicality and usefulness of boutiques and bistros, not to mention large swaths of the community that still don't have sidewalks.
Cathie Dodd, who heads the Woodbine Community Organization, which invests in affordable housing and educates lower-income residents on issues of financial literacy, says everyone hears displacement stories, but few people think it'll ever happen to them. "We can't prevent it because we don't have the money developers do, but we can advise them about their rental options, and how things like slowing building can help avoid homelessness," she says. "But a real question Nashville has to ask is where the city's factory workers and service providers are going to live when nearly all options seem unaffordable."
The site of my apartment, one of two shotgun triplexes built in 1966, will be demolished in March. The property was purchased by John Eldridge, who built the townhome-style condos that sit on the corner of Wedgewood and 14th. Reached by phone at his Manhattan home, the 71-year-old owner of my apartment, who is now a professional body coach, said he built the apartments for $36,000 some four decades ago. The latest assessment puts the tax value at $271,000. How much did the property fetch this year? A whopping $850,000.
Which is to say, if I want to move into another cheap spot around here, it might be smart to unpack just half my bags.