The First Aging Buildings Come Tumbling Down In The James Cayce Homes | Nashville Public Radio

The First Aging Buildings Come Tumbling Down In The James Cayce Homes

Jul 18, 2018

The James Cayce public housing complex is coming down.

On South 8th Street in East Nashville, the shovel of a giant trackhoe is eating through the roof and walls of a brick, two story apartment building.

Lenekra Head looks on from her balcony.

"It's astonishing how it's there and then it disappears," she says.   

This week, Nashville's housing authority began demolishing the first buildings of the historic development. The overhaul has been years in the making. The buildings Head is watching get torn down have been in the complex since the early 50s, a later addition to the development which was built in 1939 — when public housing was shiny and new and filled with hope.

Lenekra Head, a Cayce resident, stands on her balcony overlooking the demolition of an apartment building next door.
Credit Meribah Knight / WPLN

Today, Cayce is run-down from decades of disinvestment. So the city has decided to overhaul the sprawling 63-acre complex and turn it into housing for low and higher income renters.

For Head, who has lived in Cayce for just six months, it signals a new beginning.  

"I am very much excited, I feel like this is prime real estate, you know us being so close to the city [center]," Head says. "And I just think it's going to bring different people, much more diversity."

Just across the street though, 66-year-old Delilah Orr is less convinced. The whole street has been without gas for a day now. Orr, who has lived in Cayce for six years, says it's made bathing and cooking for her two grandchildren nearly impossible. And she says she was never notified about the shut off.

"Is it because this is public housing? They think that we don't matter?" Orr says.

The housing authority says the outage was unanticipated and they were working to restore gas service to all residents. David Dellinger, the agency's chief operating officer, said in a statement that the maintenance team went door to door to notify residents about the outage.

The ten buildings being torn down on South 8th Street are to make way for a new charter school, Explore Community School, which Nashville's housing director has called the "centerpiece" of this new mixed-income development. In fact, the school is so critical, he says, that the agency made the risky decision to finance the $25 million needed to build it.

But Orr is skeptical.

"It's just a mess. As far as I am concerned, it's not for the convenience of these residents," Orr says, meaning herself and others in Cayce.

Many Cayce residents feel similarly. That's because the complex already has a charter school, Kipp Kirkpatrick, which took over the struggling community school in 2014. And this move to build a new school, they say, is less about existing residents and more about encouraging affluent white families to move into this majority black neighborhood.