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Homeless mother, special needs son wait months for affordable housing

Developer says demand far exceeds supply

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Every day Toni Helms cares for her 30-year-old son’s Todd Foster. He needs a wheelchair and 24-hour care.

“He has cerebral palsy. He has epilepsy and chronic asthma. He really needs me,” Helms said.

What they both need, Helms said, is a place to call home.

“We are homeless now. We tried to stay in the house as long as we could and it just come down to the wire before getting evicted,” Helms said.

Todd Foster

Todd Foster

Helms said her son was approved for a Section 8 voucher by MDHA in September 2020, which allowed her to apply for housing at Buffalo Trail Apartments.

She said she got approved for Buffalo Trail in February 2021 and paid a $500 deposit that month, but four months have gone by and she’s still living in a hotel.

“They apologized for the inconvenience, but they don’t have a definite date,” Helms said.

News4 Nashville reached out to LDG Development, the developers of Buffalo Trail Apartments.

“What you’re seeing in Nashville and what this woman is unfortunately experiencing is reflective of a larger problem in this country,” Christi Lanier-Robinson with LDG Development said.

Lanier-Robinson is Executive Vice President with LDG Development, the largest development of affordable housing in the country.

She said there’s a national shortage of affordable housing units nationwide. Lanier-Robinson said Buffalo Trail is no exception.

Then, COVID-19 slowed down construction, pushing back the number of available units, keeping people like Helms on the waiting list.

“So, this project is behind, but the bottom line is this, when we built our first development in Nashville two to three years ago, we had 350 calls in one day alone,” Lanier-Robinson said. “We are building as fast as we can, but we still can’t keep up with the demand.”

In Nashville alone, Lanier-Robinson projects they’ll need about 31,000 units of affordable housing by 2025 to meet the demand. But that means Helms, Foster and so many others are stuck waiting.

“Our hearts absolutely break for Toni,” Lanier-Robinson said. “We see this in communities all across the country. I know that it’s tough. I understand it, but we are working as fast as we can. We have to comply with federal fair housing laws and local housing laws, and, so you know, we’re doing everything we can on our end to speed up the process as much as possible.”

That process is going by slowly for Helms. She just wants a permanent place for her son to feel secure.

“I would like to know that he is set, and whatever I do, if I’m gone from the earth, God forbid, I know that he’s got his own apartment,” Helms said.

Lanier-Robinson said not only is the demand greater than supply right now. She said 80% of the area median income in Nashville for a family of four is about $65,000. Those are the salaries they’re noticing from people applying for affordable housing.

Lanier-Robinson said wages nationwide aren’t keeping up with rent or housing prices.


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