VOL. 38 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 13, 2014
Music City's creative class struggles with rising home costs in traditional havens like East Nashville
By Jeannie Naujeck
Holly, Mack and Wren Linebaugh on the porch of their home in Inglewood with their dog, Dottie Pearl. -- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger
Neighborhoods such as East Nashville, 12 South and Belmont have traditionally been the refuge of Nashville’s creative class – affordable havens with varying degrees of grit and underdevelopment.
Urban pioneers – and anyone who was lucky enough to buy a house during less prosperous times – are now sitting on property that seems to be appreciating by the day.
But the high cost of entry into such neighborhoods is beginning to leave out the very kinds of people they have long cultivated.
“I’m perplexed by artists being priced out of an artists’ neighborhood,” says Brian Bequette, a musician turned real estate broker whose company, Sneaky Ninja, offers real estate sales, rentals and property management services primarily on the Eastside.
“It’s my greatest sadness right now that in the neighborhood where I lived for 20 years, people who are just like I was back then can no longer live here.”
“Most of our clients are musicians and artists. That’s what we specialize in; that’s our people.
“And I want to see them stay in this neighborhood because I feel like if we lose them, we run a really big risk of losing what makes our neighborhood and our city great.”
They include people like Mack and Holly Linebaugh. Mack, who released two albums in the late 90s with the band Farmer Not So John, and then two as a solo artist, is now director of digital services for Nashville Public Radio. Holly is a licensed massage therapist.
The couple rented a charming house near Five Points for two years before deciding to look for a house last summer in which to raise their daughter Wren, now 2 ½.
Their quest to find a home for less than $200,000 turned into a harrowing hunt that felt more like competition than shopping.
Housing and Gentrification Town Hall Meeting
On Monday, June 30, NashvilleNext will host a public town hall meeting on issues surrounding housing and gentrification. The meeting takes place from 6-7:30 p.m. at Metro Schools’ Martin Professional Development Center, 2400 Fairfax Avenue.
What is NashvilleNext? How to Learn More & Get Involved
Want to learn more and get involved in shaping the master plan for Nashville-Davidson County growth and development? NashvilleNext needs your help. NashvilleNext is a two-year process to update the city’s General Plan for the next 25 years, during which the county is expected to gain up to 200,000 new residents. The new plan will be a blueprint for the next 25 years that helps guide policy-makers on where and how to locate housing, jobs and transit for our much bigger city in 2040.
This summer marks an important phase in NashvilleNext. Local experts in issue areas such as housing, transportation, public health, education, land use, economic development and more have been working to develop three different scenarios for growth, with input from more than 10,000 members of the public. Starting June 16 and continuing through the fall, those three scenarios will be presented to the public through a series of public meetings, town halls and “lounges,” during which residents can learn about the scenarios and give their input. This fall, the NashvilleNext team will incorporate the public’s suggestions to craft a set of goals, actions and policies to move toward the preferred scenario.
A complete schedule of lounges and meetings, and more ways to get involved is at www.nashville.gov/Government/NashvilleNext.
The Linebaughs spent four months navigating a red-hot real estate market, checking their email in bed each morning for new listings.
At first, the process was exciting as they envisioned what style of home would best suit their family. Mack favored a ranch with a flowing floor plan; Holly preferred the charm of a cottage.
“House shopping together – that can be so intense,” Mack says.
“There’s that thing that goes on inside of a marriage, the future that you imagine with your life partner. The house is such a physical representation of that, the dream.”
But they soon found there would be no time for contemplation or debate over personal style. Multiple bids over asking price were the norm, and the Linebaughs twice lost out to cash buyers.
Open houses would have 30 people waiting at the door, and people who might otherwise have struck up friendships eyed each other warily and snuck outside to call their agents.
“It was sort of shocking. It was like a feeding frenzy,” Mack explains.
“We learned pretty quickly that if we didn’t see the house and put an offer in on it that day, there would be pretty much no chance of getting it if it was reasonably priced and a good house.”
“It became pretty stressful. I thought that eventually we would find a house that we’d be like, ‘This is the one’ and we’ll know. But it was so competitive. What if you have that feeling, ‘This is the one’ and you don’t get the house?”
One choice is to move farther out to close-in suburbs such as Madison and Donelson, or into fringe neighborhoods.
Sarah Paul, a partner in the Red Arrow Gallery in Riverside Village and server at the Village Pub & Beer Garden, says her recent search for a home on the Eastside required ingenuity.
“If I saw a contractor’s truck outside a house I would go up and ask if they would take this amount of money,” Paul says.
“We had our baby daughter with us. I think that sealed the deal,” she says of the house she and her husband ended up buying in Cleveland Park, a gentrifying neighborhood just west of Five Points between Ellington Parkway and I-65.
Another option is to rent, but renters have it no better. Bequette says the going rate in East Nashville is $600 per bedroom for a renovated house.
“When people call me to find housing, the cheapest thing I have to offer them is $1,500 to $1,800 a month. I don’t like having those conversations with people,” he says.
On the Gallatin Pike/Main Street corridor that runs from downtown through East Nashville and up to Inglewood and Madison, change is coming quickly.
Several large apartment complexes are being built, with new restaurants and businesses springing up around them.
A proposed new 238 unit complex planned for several acres next to the Fifth & Main condos, a development originally built to be affordable, will rent apartments averaging 850 square feet for up to $1,600.
“The concept of affordability is changing,” says Eddie Latimer, CEO of the non-profit Affordable Housing Resources.
“East Nashville has historically been what makes the foundation of our creative class. The housing boom is disappointing. It’s good for the city, but it’s disappointing because everyone who is part of those communities understands that some of our best neighbors – the core of what makes Nashville Nashville – have been priced out of the city.”
Last September, after a long, hot summer of touring houses, putting in offers and getting beat out by cash buyers, the Linebaughs finally found a house in Inglewood after offering $10,000 more than the asking price, with the seller paying closing costs.
Mack says neither he nor his wife got that feeling of finding ‘the one’ when they saw it. It needed work – one bathroom had to be gutted, flooring needed to be ripped up, the kitchen badly needed updating and the downstairs was painted Pepto Bismol pink.
And it has quirks: an upstairs bedroom lacks an air conditioning duct and one bathroom can’t have a shower because of a sloping wall.
But there are pluses. It has a good-sized backyard. Wren has formed a bond with the elderly neighbor across the street.
And the Linebaughs were able to stay on the Eastside, finding a house within their budget.
“If I’d bought a house in my 20s, I could have bought something right near Five Points for quite a bit less than what we paid for this house,” adds Mack, now in his 40s. “But time will probably prove us lucky to have gotten in when we got in.”
He’s probably right. The Linebaughs’ corner-lot fixer could very easily have been a tear-down, replaced by infill priced at twice or more what they paid.
That’s what happened five blocks away at 1801 McGavock.
In September 2012, the .87 acre lot sold for $200,000, according to Metro property records. The 65-year-old stone house on it was demolished over the winter, and three new homes are now going up on the lot – each with about the same square feet as the original, just built vertically.
One of the houses will be ready for move-in at the end of July. The asking price: $425,000.
Goffrey Moore, a musician and record producer who lives in and owns rental houses on the Eastside, says people are moving to Nashville from all over the country.
Moore says he still gets calls about a rental he listed a month and a half ago.
“I put it on Craigslist at 8 and had an email by 10. The first guy who came to see it, got it, but I could have rented it 10 times over,” he says, noting that calls have come from cities as far-flung as Seattle, Minneapolis and New York.
“It’s the whole range of people – some artistic people, a lot of just straight 9 to 5. Every “Top 20 Cities” list that comes out, Nashville’s on it somewhere.
“They’re definitely coming.”
Moore is a transplant himself, having moved from Los Angeles five years ago. He and his wife have purchased two rental homes, with a third in progress. They still own a triplex in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood, which has appreciated in value.
“With Nashville, you have this historically affordable place, and that’s really part of the reason the creative class has grown up here – location, do-ability,” Linebaugh says.
“But then suddenly everybody wants to be a part of that, and that includes people from California and New York.”
Linebaugh says he was chatting recently with a singer-songwriter visiting from Connecticut, and conversation turned to the escalating home prices in East Nashville.
“He asked how much I paid for my house, and when I told him he was like, ‘What?! I could sell my condo and pay cash for a house here,’” he says.
“And that’s what happening. Those people didn’t always want to live in Nashville. Now they do.