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Memphis shelters at capacity due to lack of affordable housing

By Kelli Cook

Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 10:39 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 31, 2022 at 10:42 PM CDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - If you’re in the market to rent a home, you are well aware of how expensive it it to do so.

The skyrocketing cost of rent can really be felt in the city’s emergency shelters.

Housing officials say a key piece of the housing puzzle is missing and there’s a big effort to get them back.

Deidra Malone knows that struggle to find affordable housing in Memphis all too well. Malone spent months with her five children homeless.

“I try to do the best I can, because it’s just me,” she said. “I’ve been a single parent my whole life. My children, their dad is in jail.”

After the home she was living in caught fire last year, Malone ultimately ended up at an emergency shelter in July.

She lived at “Room in the Inn,” a temporary home while searching for permanent housing.

“Since COVID hit everything has changed,” she said. “It’s been tougher, a lot tougher because with the rental process the requirements are more tougher.”

Before COVID, the average length of stay at the shelter was 12-14 days. By the end of 2021, families were staying over 60 days. Malone was there for 90 days.

Shelters are bursting at the seams, in part because of an unforgiving housing market.

“It is a crisis and unfortunately it’s one that has not reached it’s peak,” Mary Hammett said.

Hammett is the vice president of Family Programs for MIFA. She says Memphis was once a model program for rapid de-housing.

Amazon’s DAY One families awarded MIFA $5.2 million in 2019 to help homeless families get into quality housing, but the pandemic set them back in ways they couldn’t imagine.

“What has happened since the moratorium on eviction is that a lot of our local landlords who have helped families, they’ve sold to investors and out of town and as you know rent in Memphis is going up everywhere,” Hammett said.

According to, a two-bedroom apartment in Memphis costs $1,080 per month on average.

Hammett says landlords are also now asking for two to three months’ deposit.

For low-income renters with questionable credit history, coming up with $3,000 is a struggle.

“So we are creating homelessness by making it too unaffordable for people,” said Hammett.

Hammett says because there is such a high volume of families in need, they are constantly having to turn people away from getting help.

Malone was one of the lucky ones, receiving emergency funds from MIFA, and the kindness of one volunteer contractor.

“As I was growing up, I remember we were in the same crisis so I didn’t forget where I came from, " said contractor Tyrone Griggs.

Griggs is a volunteer contractor. He and his crew have spent hours working for free to get homes ready for renting.

The owner of the home Malone and her children moved into in South Memphis now lives out west, but Griggs offers his services to get families in need moved in.

Hammett says solving the housing crisis is complicated, but getting local landlords to come back into the fold would be a big help.

“They’re slowly coming back, but we had to figure out and speak their language,” Hammett said. “What makes you want to do this? Because it has to be not just a business decision when you have investors coming in and offering hot money. It has to be heart decision as well.”

Malone admits her home isn’t much--it doesn’t have a stove, and could use a fresh coat of paint--but it’s a home she is grateful for.

“It’s not much but this is where we all gather up and sleep. They all sleep with me in here.”

Malone did receive a furniture voucher from MIFA, but says there is so much to purchase since she is starting over. She says she will be forever grateful for the people who finally got her into a home.

Hammett says she doesn’t expect the relief in shelters to come anytime soon.

A new Tennessee state law requires renters to come up with a year’s worth of rent to appeal an eviction... leaving some low-income tenants having to come up with more than 10-thousand dollars to stay in their homes.

MIFA says they are holding quarterly informational sessions with landlords to figure out what they need to get back in the rental market.

For more information about rental assistance call MIFA at (901) 529-4545.

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Posted by Bailey Bigger at 15:46
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