rental and mortgage assistance

Housing Crisis: The Growing Need for Rental Assistance

Jun 12, 2024 | Blog

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Like many workplaces, United Way keeps an eye on keywords and service requests that help our neighbors find our programs and funded partners. We’ve observed a growing number of Google searches for “rental assistance Nashville” and “rental assistance near me.” This trend reflects an affordability crisis, which is affecting many communities in our region. Individuals and families are struggling to afford housing in Middle Tennessee, especially in Nashville.

One significant reason is the escalating cost of housing in our region. According to Payscale, “Nashville’s housing expenses are 6% higher than the national average” and 32% higher than state average. In recent years, Nashville and the surrounding region has experienced rapid economic growth and exceedingly outpaced post-pandemic recovery when compared to other regions across the U.S. As a result, rental prices have surged, placing a significant financial burden on our asset-limited neighbors.

For many households, income has not kept pace with inflation. The disparity between income and expenses makes it increasingly challenging for many families to afford necessities, including housing. When faced with financial instability, families are finding themselves in need of rental assistance to cover or avoid delinquent payment(s). Ultimately, individuals and families are seeking to avoid eviction and subsequent homelessness and many are protecting their children’s well-being.

“The eviction process has sped up,” shared Lisa Wooley, executive director of Rooftop Nashville, which provides emergency rental or mortgage assistance to Davidson County residents. “You can be evicted in the same month that you have a hardship. There is not a lot of time to get back on your feet and address the hardship. Going through the court process adds legal fees to your balance. It also makes it more difficult to find new housing.”

As a community, it’s essential that we come together to address the root causes of housing insecurity and homelessness. At United Way, The Family Collective fosters a wide network of community partners to prevent and end homelessness across our nine-county service area. The team collaborates with partner agencies to create local systems of support that meet families’ increasing housing needs. 


“Our focus is to link struggling families with prevention, crisis intervention, and long-term support to stabilize their housing situation and improve their incomes so they can
thrive in Middle Tennessee.”

—Rod DeVore, Director of 2-Gen Initiatives/The Family Collective

And with partners like Needlink and Rooftop Nashville, United Way supports access to programs that provide emergency housing assistance. But is this enough?

It takes a coordinated effort among local organizations to help families attain housing and receive wrap-around supports that help them retain housing (e.g., job readiness/training, affordable childcare, reliable private or public transportation, workforce development, financial literacy). “The Family Collective’s approach is centered around a family coach who serves as a reliable touchpoint for families to help them access services they need quickly,” Rod said. United Way is expanding our focus on homelessness prevention efforts and housing stabilization, which is more cost-effective and decreases trauma for individuals and families.

Prevention with a focus on keeping families in their housing makes sense. But these efforts must be sufficiently resourced with staff and funding to cover requests for housing assistance. According to Lisa, government programs offer rent and mortgage assistance programs that are generally one-time grants that are offered once every 12 months. “What we are seeing is more and more residents are struggling to cover basic needs even when they have access to resources and a job,” she added. “Residents who are not connected to resources are cycling through housing and homelessness.”

Greater Nashville residents need city, state and federal governments to foster systems (and a culture!) that expand local efforts and resources. Instead, states like Tennessee have passed laws that criminalize homelessness, resulting in added barriers to housing. Specifically, Tennessee became the first state in 2022 to criminalize camping in public spaces like parks, classifying it as a felony offense.

Partners like Open Table Nashville advocate for policies that decriminalize homelessness and promote systemic change. Open Table Nashville helped file an amicus brief to uphold Johnson v. Grants Pass, a pivotal case before the Supreme Court of the United States. This landmark case addresses whether municipalities retain the authority to penalize individuals for basic acts of self-preservation, such as sleeping outdoors in the absence of viable shelter alternatives.

The nonprofit community needs support from government entities to forge sustainable solutions for housing stability as people transition through periods of homelessness and hardship.  Federal funding coupled with strategic eviction prevention policies and programs are an effective way of keeping families in housing. For example, the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and the Nashville Hispanic Bar Association launched an Eviction Right to Counsel program for low and moderate-income residents facing eviction. In its first year, the program saved Metro residents an estimated $3.4 million.

Government resources can go a long way, as shown through pandemic assistance programs supported by The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021. The ARP helped many organizations launch or expand programs, but many now face a lack of funding.

 Inadequate funding for housing assistance and adjacent programs impacts our community on a macro-level (for example, it impedes workforce development). On a micro-level, families face increased stressors and are disconnected from the community, and children face suppressed development and school performance.

As individuals and families navigate the complexities of residing and surviving in our region, they need immediate help and long-term systemic change that ensures everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home.

“The Family Collective is focused on expanding prevention efforts and fostering alignment among providers to ensure we are maximizing resources and increasing the number of families that are stably housed,” Rod said.