Residents of an East Nashville mobile home community pleaded Tuesday for more time to find stable housing in an emotional public hearing as the Metro Council considered a zoning request for a mixed-use development slated to take its place.
Tenants of the W.C. Mobile Home Community at 1509 Dickerson Pike — some of whom have lived there for more than 20 years — said they were told by property owner Tony Clouse in June that they must move out by Aug. 31.
Among them was Javier Ríos, a resident of the community for 24 years who has glaucoma.
“To move and leave everything behind will require a lot of money, and it’s making me choose between … eye surgery and a home,” Ríos said through a translator at a rally before the meeting began.
Without the surgery, he risks going blind.
More than two dozen current and former residents, teachers and community members repeatedly asked for more time and compensation for the 48 families being forced to leave. Several children who reside in the mobile home community spoke on behalf of their families, including one child who tearfully said that her family would not have enough time to find housing and move.
“These families are not asking to stop the tide of gentrification in Nashville,” said Cassandra Cosgrove, a teacher at Shwab Elementary School. “They’re not trying to stop change. They’re not even asking to be prioritized over others. They just want decency, understanding and time.”
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Rebecca Zarrow, a history teacher in the Highland Heights area, said her students are going back to school for the first time in a year and a half on Aug. 10.
“We can only imagine on young kids, the impact that (the pandemic and the tornado) is having, and now only having two months, right at this time when they’re supposed to have some normalcy back in their lives being kicked out of their homes,” she said.
The council deferred the zoning request to its Oct. 5 meeting, allowing at least eight more weeks for Clouse and residents of the community to come to an agreement. Clouse did not attend the meeting.
The bill’s sponsor, Metro Council member Sean Parker, said this does not mean the request will move forward on Oct. 5, but it can happen if the council deems it appropriate. The bill would still need to be approved on second and third reading to pass.
“I think we, as a council, need to make very clear to property owners and landlords and developers that we will not stand for them treating our citizens this way, and we will use every tool that we have at our disposal to make sure that they understand,” Metro Council member Ginny Welsch said following public comment. “They need to come back with a better plan that takes care of everyone who is involved in this and move forward with equity and justice.”
Project highlights tension between development and displacement
The mobile home community land is part of a plan for a potential mixed-use development spearheaded by New Orleans developer Key Real Estate.
Shawn Henry, a representative for Key Real Estate, said the development and management firm “supports the ongoing efforts of the current property owner, who is the landlord for the mobile home park residents, and believes that more time is necessary and appropriate for the current landlord to resolve the issues that some residents may still be having there.”
Bill Boasberg, Key Real Estate managing principal and chief operating officer, said the company is excited about the Dickerson Pike development. Key Real Estate has other investments in Nashville and is “here to stay” with plans to continue to develop in Nashville, he said.
The conflict is the latest upheaval as Nashville’s accelerating development boom swells into existing neighborhoods. Housing advocacy and union groups have voiced concerns about low- and moderate-income families being pushed out of the city by newer, pricier housing developments, potentially worsening Nashville’s current affordable housing crisis.
In April, software giant Oracle Corp. announced plans for a 65-acre, $1.2 billion Nashville campus, bringing renewed development pressure to nearby Dickerson Pike doorsteps. Oracle closed on the $254 million, 13-parcel land deal in early June.
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Dickerson Road United in Struggle, a tenant union of long-term residents of the W.C. Mobile Home Community, rallied outside the Metro Courthouse before the council meeting Tuesday, supported by advocacy group Worker’s Dignity.
Residents demanded more time to move and “fair compensation” for their trailers, many of which they said would cost up to $10,000 to move, if they can be moved at all. Older trailers are at risk of being demolished.
Residents said Clouse intended to sell the 1.63-acre parcel for more than a year but did not communicate those plans to his residents until June, leaving them inadequate time to remove and relocate their homes.
The mobile home park is part of a nine-parcel, 6.43-acre property in the Highland Heights neighborhood, with spanning 1505 through 1603 Dickerson Pike. Clouse listed the property for sale in June 2020, the Nashville Post reported.
How long residents will be allowed to stay in the mobile home community remains murky.
Metro Council member Tonya Hancock, who grew up in a mobile home community, said it may be impossible to move some of the trailers.
“I hope that as we move toward that date (in October), we work with the residents regularly to make plans for the future, which may not be in that location,” Hancock said.
After voting to defer the zoning request, Metro Council member Jonathan Hall and At-Large Council member Sharon Hurt encouraged the council to be consistent in addressing issues of displacement and gentrification.
“My heart went out to those people tonight,” Hall said. “I empathize and sympathize with them, but I also see the exact same thing happening everywhere else, or in multiple places in this city, not getting the same attention or reaction from this (council). That’s wrong. That’s inconsistent. And we’ve got to do a better job about that.”
Yue Stella Yu and Sandy Mazza contributed reporting.
Reach reporter Cassandra Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.
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