The Promise: Public Housing Residents Brace For Change, But Are The Bureaucrats Listening? | Nashville Public Radio

The Promise: Public Housing Residents Brace For Change, But Are The Bureaucrats Listening?

Aug 31, 2018

The last radio story in this series reveals the scope of The Promise, WPLN's special podcast series. Reporter and producer Meribah Knight spent over a year reporting on life in the James Cayce Homes, Nashville's largest public housing complex.

This final story follows one resident, Vernell McHenry, who has been advocating for her neighborhood as it embarks on a $600 million renovation — a renovation she worries could leave her and other low-income residents even more vulnerable than they already are.

At 61 years old, McHenry is like the grandmother of her corner of James Cayce. She’s lived in the complex for more than 17 years, greeting the neighborhood from a metal folding beach chair on her stoop.

But Cayce is about to be transformed, torn down and rebuilt as mixed income apartments. Vernell has a decision to make. Does she stay in her dilapidated and aging apartment where her friends and a gaggle of smiling kids live next door? Or does she go down the hill to a brand new building, potentially losing her social life and sense of home in the process?

The decision she ultimately makes is only the first twist in this story.

A year after first meeting McHenry, Knight is still reporting, still spending time with her as well as many other residents. More than a year later, we’re reminded, yet again, of how difficult it will be to pull off this massive redevelopment.

As the city prepares to turn its largest public housing projects into a mixed income development, McHenry and every other Cayce resident must sign a new rental agreement with steeper fines for late rent, stricter limits on guests and cleaning rules, among many others. And higher income tenants won’t have to sign it. That's making many residents all the more skeptical, casting doubt on whether the housing authority can really deliver on its promise: to build a community where both the city’s poorest citizens and prosperous city-dwellers can live in harmony.

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This radio story is derived from our special longform podcast series called The Promise. To hear the complete series, you can listen via Apple Podcasts,  Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts — or just start with part one here: