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Nashville families are struggling to find housing after being displaced

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Nashville, an apartment complex for people who earn low incomes is being demolished to make way for a new mixed-use development. WPLN's Ambriehl Crutchfield reports that trying to find a new home comes with many difficulties, especially for families.

AMBRIEHL CRUTCHFIELD, BYLINE: Virginia Holland is switching back-and-forth between making eggs, sausage and rice for her kids' breakfast and looking for a new home.

VIRGINIA HOLLAND: And so we go on here.

CRUTCHFIELD: Holland only has two weeks to leave, so she's tapping through her smartphone, looking at a government-run search website.

HOLLAND: OK. You see this? Zero properties in Nashville.

CRUTCHFIELD: Her six kids range from 1 to 6 years old. So ideally, she wants two kids per room. Finding the right number of bedrooms is just one of many challenges for Holland. She's been trying to leave since 2018, because the unit is infested with mice. The Riverchase Apartments are beyond repair, so the new owner is covering moving cost and security deposit. But that won't fix the current housing shortage.

HOLLAND: How is that the developer is going to make sure everyone has a place when there is not anywhere?

CRUTCHFIELD: Holland could be facing discrimination for how she pays for her rent - a Section 8 voucher. HUD says people should only spend 30% of their money on housing. The local housing authority covers what's above that for people earning low incomes.

HOLLAND: I don't even know if overwhelmed is the word for the situation now. And it's to the point where I'm almost, like, ready to just give up.

CRUTCHFIELD: In general, landlords turn down Section 8 for three reasons. One, they don't want to deal with the government's red tape. Two, they can charge more on the private market. Three, landlords stereotype who has a voucher. People assume single Black women like Holland are taking advantage of government resources - you know, the welfare queen thing. But that's a racist stereotype. Before Riverchase, a dangerous domestic violence situation landed Holland and her kids in a homeless shelter while pregnant.

JACKIE SIMS: The moms who have several children, that's very difficult. That's about as difficult as having a felony on your record.

CRUTCHFIELD: This is PATHE Executive Director Jackie Sims. The developer is paying the nonprofit to help families find new homes. The deadline to move out was originally set for May, but it has been extended several times to accommodate people who are hard to move. There are a few things the Federal Housing Department could do to make using Section 8 easier, especially in a tight housing market. Will Fischer is the senior director of housing policy and research at the National Organization Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

WILL FISCHER: That includes making sure the voucher covers enough rent to be competitive in the local market. Voucher units are inspected to make sure that they are not unsafe. And it's really important that housing agencies do those inspections promptly. So that's what's holding up the process.

CRUTCHFIELD: But that won't eliminate discrimination. A research journal called Housing Policy Debate recently found that being a single mother is seen as a negative thing for Black women and Latinas. It's not held against white women. This combination of pay, family structure and identity discrimination all stands in the way of what Holland wants.

HOLLAND: A backyard - that's ideal for me. More than one bathrom or washer and dryer connection. God, Lord knows I need a washer and dryer connection.

CRUTCHFIELD: After Holland's housing navigator searched for four months, she landed a house this July.

HOLLAND: It's very freeing to know that I can come in my house - my house, not an apartment - and just get a piece of tranquility.

CRUTCHFIELD: As she gets settled into her new home, she already has plans to remove the tree stump and plant flowers in the front yard. For NPR News, I'm Ambriehl Crutchfield in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ambriehl Crutchfield