Landlord helps renters break poverty cycle

LA VERGNE – When Brittney Long moved to Middle Tennessee from Jackson, Tenn., last year, she was surprised at the cost of renting an apartment.

Over the past two years, rent prices have jumped more than 50 percent from $880 to $1,350 from 2014 to 2016 for a two-bedroom apartment in Davidson County, according to data from

“I would probably have to get a second job to afford rent in Davidson County,” said Long, who works as an access-specialist coordinator at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

After searching, she found a home for herself and three children at Rutherford Pointe Townhomes in La Vergne.

The townhomes are owned by Nashville-based Highmark Holdings, which specializes in affordable housing funded by Tennessee Housing Development Agency bonds and other tax credits, company President Robbie King explained.

Long said she was lucky to find a rent-stable apartment in Middle Tennessee, especially one that offers the support that Rutherford Pointe does.

Instead of just keeping rental costs low, Highmark Holdings and property management company, Enfield Management, have added a distinctive service for its residents, a resident program coordinator, who will help residents connect with nonprofits and other programs.

“We have direct interaction with 1,600 low income families in Tennessee,” King said about Highmark Holdings’ nine apartment complexes in the state.

“I can’t imagine not doing everything I can to give them a safe and affordable place to live and give them the tools to live,” he continued. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Because of how the financing is structured, Highmark Holdings is required to keep the units’ rent affordable, but the company takes its responsibility a step further, King said.

The company recently added Alexis Lewis as resident-program coordinator. In her new job, Lewis is charged with coordinating programs and partnering with nonprofits to provide services to the residents of the complex.

“We want to improve the quality of life of our residents by connecting them with the community,” Lewis said.

King said residents are restricted to families that earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income. In the Nashville metropolitan statistical area, of which Rutherford County is a part, is about $45,000.

“This is workforce housing,” King said, explaining only a small percentage of the residents receive Section 8 vouchers. “A majority do not receive government assistance directly.”

He explained working residents can fall through the cracks and need different services than those on government assistance, so the company hired Lewis to help fill the cracks.

“We hired Alexis to come on and coordinate with local nonprofits in effort to give residents the tools they need to improve their lives,” King said.

Lewis said she learned much about the resident’s needs by conducting a needs assessment. She found residents wanted help with a variety of issues.

The ones that stood out were educational programs for children; job readiness training; help with nutrition, cooking and developing healthy habits; after school care; and community-building activities.

Long said one of the first things Lewis did was organize a Christmas party for the children who live there.

She said her children, Kenyon, 11, Kaylin, 7, and Kaden, 3, enjoyed meeting Santa and celebrating Christmas with the other children from the complex.

“My son actually helped clean up without me having to ask,” Long said, laughing. “And he did it with his friends.”

Even more than the Christmas party, Long said she appreciates Christi Clark, the property manager, looking after her children when they get home from school.

While the party was a first step, Lewis said she wants to bring in more nonprofits.

She has already reached out to the Rutherford County Extension Office for financial-planning classes, Read To Succeed for preschool literacy, and other local organizations, she said.

King said the goal is to give the families the skills and support they need to buy their own homes in the future.

“We hate to have a resident move out,” King said. “But if they can move out because they buy their own home, then I’m happy.”

Long said she’s not moving out for another year because she can’t find any like Rutherford Pointe.

“If it wasn’t for Rutherford Pointe, truthfully in this market, I couldn’t afford anything like it,” Long said.

And the management staff at the apartments provide her family with the support she needs to be successful, she said.

Contact Michelle Willard at 615-278-5164, on Twitter @MichWillard or Rutherford County Business News on Facebookat

Over the past few years, several companies, like Lawler Wood Housing Partners and Highmark Holdings, have invested in rehabilitating low-income apartment complexes in Rutherford County.

Using THDA bonds and other tax credits that pass through the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board, the companies use the money to fund the renovations at low-income apartment complexes.

Rutherford Pointe is one of nine properties Highmark Holdings owns in Tennessee, totaling 1,576 units that saw renovations valued at more than $28.7 million.

The credits were enacted by Congress in 1986 to provide private investors with the capital, and an incentive, to invest in affordable and low-income housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The provisions of the bonds and credits would require all the units to remain low-income and rent restricted, explained Michael Blade, director and Assistant Legal Counsel for Multifamily Development at THDA.