Housing for the People: How an affordable apartment changed my life

Housing for the People: Stories from the Front Line

By Vicky Batcher

  • Lived experience
The Contributor, Street paper, USA

For Vicky Batcher, a regular face with and in Nashville street paper The Contributor, simply liking a Facebook page set her on a road toward a roof of her own over her head. For the latest in INSP’s ‘Housing for the People’ column, she writes about the rush of emotions that experiencing safety and security for the first time in years brought her.

In the space of a weekend, my son Jason’s wife walked out, my other son Paul moved out of the RV he shared with me and in with Jason, who is also his twin.

I moved on. Soon after, a simple“like” button on Facebook turned out changing my life.

I liked the page of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA), which runs Nashville’s largest housing developments, and started seeing their posts about waitlists opening up for real affordable housing, not income-restricted affordable housing. When a property came up for the waitlist to open, I felt like a runner taking the start stance. Everything was falling into place. My sons were in housing, now it was time for myself.

I filled out the online application, submitted it at the right time and waited. I had been living in that bare-bones RV, unless I was hooked up to electricity and water, which a church sometimes allowed us to do. The parks would soon be closing, and I had a little bit left over for the very first park we ever went to – 7 Points Campground. Then when I saw the first spot we ever camped, I felt it was a sign. Paul helped me hook up and off he went and there we were in the quiet of nature, relaxing. It was the final time I’d be in a park that year, or so I thought.

That next day I got a call from a number I wasn’t familiar with and hesitated to answer it. On the third ring, I thought I’d live dangerously and picked it up. I could hardly believe who was on the other end. She said her name was Erica and she was calling from MDHA. My heart just stopped. Everything came to a halt as I tried to comprehend what she was saying: “Your name has come up on our waitlist and we have an apartment for you.”

Tears started to fill up in my eyes. Is this really happening? Would I get my hopes up like before when the tenant tried renting her duplex out in a scam? Or the many people who would contact me through the preceding seven years saying “I can rent to you” until the evictions came out. We made arrangements to meet that Monday to go over paperwork and the next day I could move in. It wasn’t until hours later I started making my list of questions, all the time knowing I didn’t care where or what it was. I was going to have a home. Monday arrived and the excitement grew until finally my ride picked me up at the church parking lot that I had called home for a few months, and off we went to Hadley Park Towers in Nashville.

After meeting with Erica and seeing the apartment, I felt this was home so went down to the office to sign the lease and make the payments. Then that moment came where she handed me the keys. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. A rollercoaster of emotions swept through every bit of my body. It was finally over. My journey of homelessness was finally over. Or was it?

Tears started to fill up in my eyes. Is this really happening? I didn’t care where or what it was. I was going to have a home.

That afternoon some friends helped with getting things out of the RV and down to my new apartment. My apartment. My affordable housing apartment! It was great, but also tough. I was moving to a city I lived near but never in. Nashville is big. Getting around was complicated and often filled with a lot of anxiety. I relied on friends to drive me or if that didn’t work, I’d call Access Ride. It would normally take me two days to get over the anxiety to call Access Ride, a door-to-door service WeGo provides for the disabled. It seemed like when I moved in, I was afraid to leave the apartment except to take my dog Faith, anemotional support animal, out. Writing was now my therapy, for real.

Selling The Contributor paid the rent on my apartment and other publications where I would write also paid me so I could pay up and stay ahead of the bills and anxiety. Feeling like I was put here to do more, I saw a Facebook post about needing someone with lived experience to serve on a committee and I applied.

That’s one thing I could really share, and maybe make improvements and save the lives of other people experiencing homelessness. I joined the Continuum of Care Homeless Planning Council with monthly meetings, usually through Zoom due to the pandemic. When opportunities for positions on other committees came up where I thought I could help make changes, I jumped at the chance. It was intimidating at times looking over the others that made up the council – important people, leaders in the community.

Pretty soon I started opening my mouth, which probably shocked a few thinking I might be mute. I told them about the affordable housing at MDHA, I started putting myself into the conversation and making suggestions. The financial protection of finally receiving social security was such a feeling of peace. I’m able to pay rent, cell phone and internet bills, take care of Faith’s needs, and eat. After working with the Financial Empowerment Center, I’m learning to add to my savings account.

I just signed my renewal lease on my apartment for the third year. There is one thing I can count on with affordable housing – I can always pay my rent. True affordable housing is when your rent never exceeds 30 per cent of your income. You can always afford it. If your income changes all you do is show them in the office and they change your rent. Ending homelessness is easy – build more true affordable housing. Nashville has done some incredible things this past year in their fight to end homelessness. Many new programs have appeared that are housing the unhoused faster than ever before. We still have a lot of work to do but we're on the right path.

Safety and security for the first time in seven years was an emotion that would take time getting used to. I was dealing with other feelings – fear, nightmares and the occasional note from the management threatening evictions if rules weren’t followed. Even though I was in compliance, that word eviction just sent chills through me. I can’t lose my apartment, I can’t. And I won’t.

Vicky Batcher is a writer and housing advocate. She also sells The Contributor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Housing for the People is a column produced by the International Network of Street Papers from people on the frontlines of the housing justice movement in America and beyond.

Courtesy of INSP North America / International Network of Street Papers

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