This story is part of a series marking the one-year anniversary of the 2020 tornadoes. Visit the series page here.
After last year’s destructive tornado ripped through historically Black North Nashville, concerns rose about developers using the moment to further gentrify the area and displace longtime residents. Some reported being swarmed by buyers.
But one year later, residents like Ivan Boggs are well on their way to rebuilding.
On his block of 14th Avenue North, Boggs saw the full range — and randomness — of the destruction.
A few houses were crushed by large trees as the tornado spun through the block. Boggs had roof and minor interior damage. And some of his neighbors’ homes were untouched.
The devastation brought everyone outside with brooms, chainsaws and trash bags in an attempt to clear the debris.
Months later, Boggs recalled the transition of his block from the comfort of his living room.
“Those two skinny houses [right] there, they were built but they collapsed,” he said, pointing out the window with his wife. “So they rebuild them.”
Boggs works as a technician in the surgery department at a local hospital. He’s lived in the culturally rich neighborhood for his entire life, which is obvious as he ticked down the block.
“The one next to Mr. Steve, it’s remodeling,” he said. “Everything was sucked out through the tornado. It just was gutted.”
Boggs, says at least in his area, several of his friends and longtime neighbors kept their properties.
But there has been change. And his neighborhood still looks like a construction zone.
“As I see … all of those newer and bigger homes over on 16th, those I feel like the landlord sold the property,” he said.
Metro records show several homes were demolished on 14th and 16th — those are among the city’s 199 destroyed properties, including multiple historic buildings. Combined with Wilson and Putnam counties to the east, the storm and its multiple tornadoes destroyed more than 1,600 structures and killed 25 people.
Concerns of increased gentrification
Even well before the storm, North Nashville had become attractive to redevelopment. So community groups like The Equity Alliance and Stand Up Nashville launched homeowner education and door knocking campaigns — like #DontSellOutNorf! — to encourage people to stay in the neighborhood.
This past week we stood with the people of North Nashville to ensure they weren't forgotten in the aftermath of the devastating March 3rd tornadoes. 600+ volunteers and more than 450 doors knocked in 2 hours, we let them know we got ya back and #DontSellOutNorf! pic.twitter.com/J8AkiDjCmG
— The Equity Alliance (@EquityAlliance1) March 11, 2020
Still, some did sell.
“For some of those properties, which normally would have not sold if it had not been a storm, I’m definitely sure that’s the case for some of those properties. No doubt,” said Vivian Wilhoite, Nashville’s property assessor.
Wilhoite says she’s aware of how much gentrification has affected the area. But she also points out that in 2020 she didn’t see an immediate increase in home sales in the tornado-damaged 37208 ZIP Code, which includes the path of the storm through North Nashville and Germantown.
Her records show 231 residential sales in that area in 2019, compared to 184 between March 3 and Nov. 16 of 2020.
Developers, however, are still eyeing the neighborhood. Homes sales could increase in 2021, Wilhoite said.
Preserving the culture of the community
Homeowners like Mimi Graham, whose property was damaged a mile away from Ivan Boggs, say the area had all already been swamped with new development, so there isn’t all that much left to protect.
“It was changing before the tornado hit,” she says. “They were putting up all these different type of houses and they didn’t match the houses that are here.”
Graham was born and raised in the community. She didn’t want to leave just because things were changing around her.
“My dad worked hard and he bought this home. He came from Alabama. And you know how rough it was in Alabama for him,” said Graham. “And so that’s why he moved to Nashville, to make a better life for himself and his family. And this is where he met my mom.”
Graham is one of many homeowners who have been assisted through Nashville’s tornado recovery group overseen by the nonprofit Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
The group has given away more than $6 million in grants to front-line nonprofits that are helping with a wide range of needs.
Rebuilding her home, says Graham, is a way of preserving her father’s work.
“It’s just the north side,” she said. “It’s like our territory, our hood.”
For years, Graham has been getting phone calls, emails and text messages to sell. But she says that there’s pride in having a legacy that’s from the area.
She won’t be pushed out by tornadoes or gentrification, and she plans to pass on her home to younger family members.