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Affordable housing advocates to discuss impact of budget cuts on low-income families

The report identified possible policy changes to help increase affordable housing and avoid involuntary displacement. | Courtesy of Housing Needs Assessment

The Louisville Housing Needs Assessment is the topic of two panel discussions happening this week. The creative space 1619 Flux Art + Activism will present “What About Louisville’s Housing Needs Assessment?” on Wednesday, April 17 at 5:30 p.m. And the Louisville Urban League will host “Work to End Segregation! The Housing Needs Assessment Recommendations and Fair Housing” at the Louisville Urban League on Thursday, April 18 at 6 p.m.

The Housing Needs Assessment is the first in-depth analysis of housing stock across Louisville Metro. It was released in February by the Louisville’s Office of Housing & Community Development and the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The study, which was conducted by Mullin & Lonergan Associates of Pittsburgh at a cost of about $100,000, looked at the number of rentals and single-family homes, eviction rates, the risk of involuntary displacement, incomes, ethnicities, and home and rental prices in the city.

The assessment found that Louisville has a $3.5 billion gap in affordable housing. The situation is particularly bad in the city’s Northwest Core (Portland, Russell, Shawnee) and West Core (the remaining west Louisville neighborhoods), where more than half of all families earn 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is $71,500 for a family of four.

According to the study, Louisville is more than 31,000 units (apartments, houses or other living quarters) short of being able to house all its low-income households.

Metropolitan Housing Coalition Executive Director Cathy Hinko said the assessment’s findings are especially pertinent in light of expected cuts in city services necessitated by a $35 million budget shortfall. Hinko, who will be part of Thursday’s Louisville Urban League panel, warned that if local leaders fail to make affordable housing a priority the city could see an increase in evictions and homelessness.

Cathy Hinko

“We are already a stressed city for housing that meets wages. Forty percent of workers earn a wage that is not high enough to afford a modest rent and utilities. Where ever the cuts occur, it will impact the quality of life for those who work but earn low wages,” Hinko said.

Louisville Metro Government included $12 million for affordable housing in last year’s budget. The money was raised through bonds.

The Louisville Housing Trust Fund, which was created by Metro Council to address the affordable housing shortage, received $10 million. The remaining $2 million went to Louisville Cares, a revolving loan fund to provide gap and/or bridge financing to developers building affordable workforce housing or incorporating affordable workforce housing into market-rate projects.

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, said it’s too early to tell if there will be a significant reduction in affordable housing funding this year.

“We will do less spending than we did because of the principal and interest we have to pay,” he said. “But this is an important issue and I hope we can continue to provide as much money for it as possible.”

Hinko said one of the topics she intends to bring up at the Louisville Urban League discussion is how even small cuts to code enforcement personnel or grounds crews could weaken protections for renters in the city’s low-income communities.

“It may be about losing a crew to do code enforcement even as we see renters afraid to call in violations because lower cost rental is scarce. It may be that we stop using clear boards and go back to plywood to put up on vacant homes, thereby distressing the look of a neighborhood and increasing the ability to break into vacant properties. Fewer crews to cut grass will impact fragile neighborhoods with vacant homes,” she added.

In addition to Hinko, the Louisville Urban League’s panel will also include Christie McCravy, executive director of the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund; Kendall Boyd, executive director of the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission; and Art Crosby, executive director of the Lexington Fair Housing Council. The talk will be moderated by Marilyn Harris, interim director of the Louisville Metro Office of Housing and Community Development.

Chanelle Helm, core organizer for Black Lives Matter Louisville, will discuss the Housing Needs Assessment at 1619 Flux on Wednesday night with the urban planner Joshua Poe, who has done extensive research on economic redlining.

Helm said she had no doubt that city leaders would cut the affordable housing funds and what does get approved would most likely go to housing developers rather than directly helping families in need.

“Our discussion is going to be a more grassroots view of housing in this city. I think what you see in the assessment is the institutional view. The city is pushing policies rather than listening to people affected by them,” she said.

Courtesy of Housing Needs Assessment

Poe said he intends to present data that shows Louisville’s affordable housing is even bleaker than the numbers presented in the housing assessment. He explained that the $71,500 area median income for a family of four that is used in the report is a number used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, not an accurate reflection of the incomes of poor families in the city.

Using census data and other information, Poe said, he has concluded that Louisville’s low-income families have a greater struggle than the Housing Needs Assessment reports.

Poe and Helm plan to advocate for a Citizens’ Review Board to oversee all public spending on residential housing to ensure there is equity and to create a citywide anti-displacement policy. Poe said the city also needs to lobby for rent control at a state level and stop using national indexes to measure local poverty.

Hinko contrasted Louisville’s commitment to affordable housing to that of Nashville, which recently pledged to spend $500 million over the next 10 years on the issue and challenged the private sector to commit another $250 million to the issue over the same period. The money would fund the city’s Under One Roof 2029 initiative which seeks to create at least 10,000 units.

“I cannot predict if the Metro Council will remain committed to affordable housing and the bonds,” Hinko said. “Remember, while the affordable housing advocates, for the last three years, have used the public statement part of each council meeting to educate members, we now have eight new council members who have not been hearing those stories. So, we are starting from scratch to bring home the divide in housing stability in Louisville.”

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