Knoxville Housing Crisis

"Knox County is in a housing crisis. VMC has several folks just waiting (for tenants) either to get evicted or to die to take over that apartment."
Vanessa Hensley

With government housing availability becoming stagnant in East Tennessee, Knoxville’s homeless are knocking on the doors of the many community outreach programs the city offers. However, despite these organizations’ greatest efforts, the lack of housing has left them all at a near standstill.  

In Knoxville, Tennessee, a housing crisis has left many people displaced. This is not due to a lack of community outreach, but rather a lack of resources. With much of the homeless population living in a small radius of downtown, prime location for a government housing development would be in this area. However, due to gentrification, the housing becoming available in downtown is either million dollar condos or high-priced apartments. Angela Johnson, a former property manager and the current housing and community life coordinator at Restoration House, said in an interview, “I think the apartment prices here (in the Knoxville area) are ridiculous…who makes this kind of money? And they want income to be three times the rent – who makes enough money to afford that? You can get a mortgage cheaper than what these rents are.”

In the midst of these high-dollar residences lay a community of people who are trying to make a difference in the lives of Knoxville’s homeless. Like Angela, others are dedicating their time to help find affordable housing for those who need it most while simultaneously teaching the necessary lessons on how to sustain a healthy lifestyle on their own.

Efe Oghoghome serves as the housing program coordinator for the Knoxville chapter of the YWCA. When asked in an interview about what their goals are she said, “We want to help women find affordable permanent housing.” Organizations like the YWCA serve the community by providing housing programs such as transitional housing for people in need, but their end goal is always to help them find permanent housing.

What happens when these permanent housing facilities run out? That is where Knoxville affordable housing is at right now. Vanessa Hensley, MSSW at The Volunteer Ministry Center, said that the only way they are getting people into apartments is by, “just waiting (for people) to either to get evicted or to die to take over that apartment.” According to HUD, households cannot find affordable units to rent because there is a national shortage of low-cost housing units.



In the 2017 Knoxville Homeless Management Information System’s Annual Report, Lisa Higginbotham, KnoxHMIS Program Manager, wrote, “Between 2013 and 2015, extremely low-income renters and very low-income renters saw the viability of affordable units decreasing 1.1 and 3.1 points respectively.”[1] She continued, “for every 100 extremely low-income renters, only 37.9 units are available and affordable.” This affects programs like the VMC, YWCA, and the Restoration House because their housing programs are not being as effective as they once were. “We use to be able to tell people, once you apply, it’s three to four months (to acquire housing),” Vanessa Hensley said, “now it’s six to seven months.” This reads the same across nearly every housing program in Knoxville.

So what becomes important now is what these programs are doing in the meantime for the homeless community. The YWCA and Restoration House serve the community by providing transitional and supportive housing programs. This kind of housing serves the people by providing them with housing at the program’s shelter for a period of approximately two years. While people are in these programs they are learning how to better themselves through classes. Other programs such as the VMC have day programs where the homeless community can come by and receive food and partake in programs throughout the day.

While these programs are still benefiting the homeless community, there is so much more that could be done. People want to see the homeless issue in Knoxville come to an end, but it won’t until more housing in areas around downtown and along the bus routes becomes affordable.


[1] Extremely low-income renters (0-30% Area Median Income) | Very low-income renters (0-50% Area Median Income)