Young people in Nashville who are considered homeless can now get help paying rent for a couple of years. The city has decided to use a federal grant for rental assistance, rather than building new affordable housing.
A Coordinated Community Plan found that Nashville has roughly a thousand college-age kids each year in Alesha Alexcee’s former position. She bounced between a women’s shelter and sleeping in a hallway at Nashville State Community College. Rents have gotten so high, even working a couple of jobs might not be enough to land a stable place to live.
"Especially if you’re dealing with a lot of trauma for the first part of your life," she says. "It's a whole smorgasbord of things that conflate to contribute to a lot of youth and young-adult homelessness."
Alexcee told her story Tuesday at the Oasis Center as city officials detailed their plans for a $3.5 million grant first announced last summer by a top official from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Some money will hire caseworkers. But most will be put into rental assistance. Recipients, who have to be homeless or in immediate danger of becoming homeless, will be eligible for two years of help, or possibly three.
Now, Mark Dunkerly of the Oasis Center is putting the call out to apartment owners.
"We just need landlords who are willing to say, 'OK, I’m willing to lease to an 18- to 24 year-old that doesn’t have a parent to co-sign.' We’re basically being the parent co-signing in this situation," he says.
Dunkerly says a working group of two dozen homeless service agencies initially considered building their own affordable housing. But young people involved in the process and who had experienced homelessness argued construction would take too long and possibly help fewer people.
The hot rental market may be working against them, but other cities have had some success with this "rapid re-housing" concept are pricey too. They include Austin, San Francisco and New York.
"That gave us hope that we can do it here in Nashville," Dunkerly says. "It’s not going to be easy, but we are going to be hiring someone that’s just dedicated to work with landlords, all day every day."