It's more or less human Tetris. Moving families of varying sizes around Nashville’s largest public housing complex so it can be torn down and rebuilt.
That’s because the city made a promise to overhaul the James A. Cayce homes without displacing low income families. And now, the city has the messy job of following through. Dozens of residents are supposed to be moving next month, but many say they’re still waiting on details.
Jim Harbison is the head of the housing authority, and he admits this is a difficult task.
“Is it harder than I thought? Yeah, probably,” Harbison said. “You never really know what you’re into until you’re doing it. But we’re doing it.”
The agency is more than a year into the $600 million Envision Cayce project, which plans to reimagine the 75-year-old public housing development as a new mixed income neighborhood, triple its original size. And so far, they've had to relocate 54 families to other apartments. Another 61 are slated to move this spring.
Dametria Phillips, a 28-year-old mother of two, is one of those families. Her entire street is being relocated to make way for a new charter school. Moving is already stressful, and Phillips says communication between the housing authority and residents hasn’t been great.
“They had us sign new leases and everything. Told us we’d be moving by April,” Phillips said. “But we haven’t got no information or anything. It’s like we’re just sitting here waiting.”
Her across-the-street neighbor, Constance Rhea, is also waiting to hear more. She knew she’d have to move at some point, but didn’t realize it would be to another old apartment before getting a new one.
“I didn’t think that they was going to move us back into [old] Cayce,” she said. “I thought we’d get a new apartment first.”
The housing authority says it anticipates some families will have to move more than once during the renovation. "You might have to move from old to old before you move to new," Harbison said. As of now, most have opted to stay within Cayce rather than move to other housing authority-run complexes.