As Housing Costs Soar, TN Criminalizes Camping on Local Public Property
Thursday, June 9, 2022
As Tennesseans struggle with skyrocketing living costs, a bill making it a felony to camp on local public property is slated to go into effect July 1.
The soon-to-be law was greenlighted by lawmakers without Gov. Bill Lee's signature. Critics say the measure is aimed at punishing the state's homeless population, while supporters point to the need to maintain and keep safe parks and other public spaces.
Rasheedah Phillips, director of housing for PolicyLink, explained in a recent webinar hosted by ProPublica, the trend of investment companies known as private equity firms buying up large apartment complexes is, in part, driving the nation's housing crisis.
"Particularly if you have low-income and working-class folks who live in those buildings," Phillips pointed out. "You start to see displacement pressures, evictions, and so that leads to deeper poverty, homelessness."
According to federal data from 2020, more than 7,000 Tennessee residents experience homelessness on any given day, and according to the U.S. Department of Education, pre-pandemic data showed statewide nearly 19,000 students experienced homelessness over the course of the year.
Caitlin Sugrue Walter, vice president of research for the National Multifamily Housing Council, said a tight housing market has pushed many people who previously would have chosen to buy a home into renting.
"And so that's kind of how we've had this problem evolve," Sugrue Walter observed. "We have high-income individuals who want to rent. And there's not enough building going on at a variety of levels. And so that's how we get to this point where a lot of the housing costs are increasing substantially."
According to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly half of Americans said the availability of affordable housing in their local community is a major problem, up from 2018.
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