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'A level playing field:' Millions in aid will help Nashville renters facing eviction

Conexion Americas and Legal Aid Society
Posted at 5:16 PM, Jun 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-23 19:34:37-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — Amid rising costs, millions in federal funding has been approved by the Metro Council to provide legal aid to tenants facing eviction.

Those who find themselves in criminal court have the right to an attorney. However, most renters don’t have one in eviction court. Nearly 100% of landlords show up to eviction court with an attorney, according to a study by a Vanderbilt University Action Research Class presented to council members. However, less than 1% of tenants have representation, the study found.

Rising rent has tenants scrambling, and now some are facing eviction.

"It’s very heart-wrenching because in some cases you really can’t do anything," Metro Council Member Zulfat Suara said.

She said upset residents call her about rent all the time.

"It’s just something we don’t want,” Suara said. “When you’re looking at eviction, it’s not just the parent's right. You’re looking at homelessness. But we also have to think about the student that has to change school. The issue we have with some Metro students — they are living in their car."

In June, the Metro Council approved $2.6 million in federal funding to go towards legal help for renters facing eviction.

"California, Washington state — others have already done this and so Davidson County is now joining the ranks of those who see the opportunity to have a level playing field." DarKenya Waller said. "It’s part of the American fabric."

At Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, DarKenya Waller said they're drowning in cases. They represent renters pro-bono at eviction court. The funding will allow them to hire more attorneys.

"We believe in fairness, and we’re hoping to bring that to this opportunity," Waller said.

In addition, Conexión Américas is partnering with the Hispanic Bar Association.

"In those cases when there’s been an unfair eviction and the protocols have not been put in place," Martha Silva said.

Silva said education is important because sometimes immigrants are evicted due to misunderstandings.

"We are going to help our families," Silva said.

Suara said doing something is better than nothing.

"But all of that is still not enough, so when we talk about the housing crisis, there are so many tools in the toolbox, and we have to do everything that we can," Suara said.