I moved to Nashville Last Summer. The first house I saw was a small two bedroom by a few popular East Nashville restaurants. The realtor who took us through was an old Nashvillian who did not live in East Nashville, but he had been making money off of East Nashville Realty for the last couple decades. He bragged to us about how he bought up hundreds of houses in East Nashville in 1998 after the devasting Lockeland Springs tornado.
This Tornado killed many and displaced even more, and without careful oversight, a lot of problematic investment went into East Nashville. This investment took home ownership from Natives and put it into large real estate groups. These groups renovated the houses which increased the rent and subsequently increased the housing prices and rental costs for the entire area. This particular realtor bragged to us about how he knew that this was a good investment and that a lot of people thought that she was being ridiculous. He made a lot of money, but, in doing so, he took advantage of people on the worst weeks of their life in order to short sell their properties in the name of future gentrification.
This past Tuesday Nashville was hit buy an awful tornado that has destroyed many of the areas that were once rebuilt after the tornado of ‘98. Almost 30 people have died, and entire neighborhoods have been displaced. Personally, I was four blocks from being hit by the tornado. I still remember the house shaking that night. I was one of the lucky ones to get out safe, but a lot of North and East Nashville was not so lucky.
Volunteers have been doing their best to help clean up the area and the entire city has been flooded with crisis workers and insurance agents. If this goes the same way as the ‘98 tornado we might soon be seeing the disaster capitalism flood affected areas. On the face of it this can look like a good thing. Families and landowners whose houses were destroyed will now have the opportunity to get back some of the money. However, it is unfortunately so much more complicated than just that.
When Real Estate developers take advantage of areas that have been hit by natural disasters they take over ownership from Natives and create a perfect storm for increased property costs and gentrification in the affected neighborhoods. If Nashville is not careful this could happen and this could accelerate gentrification in vulnerable areas more than it already has. I don’t know how to actually fight this. But there may be some things the natives can do. In particular, community organizations should continue to push for the repair and cleanup of as many salvageable houses as possible. Community members should continue to donate whatever they can to affected areas and be aware of the ways in which developers will try to take advantage of this situation. On a policy level it may also be possible to look at pushing for the public and collective ownership of destroyed areas with an emphasis on maintaining affordable and section 8 housing in affected areas. If some action isn’t taken it is likely that these neighborhoods will continue to become unaffordable for actual Nashville natives.