Merlene Davis: Affordable housing, drug court and payday lending concerns focus of interfaith justice meeting

Herald-Leader columnistApril 7, 2014 

  • 11th Annual Nehemiah Action Assembly of BUILD

    When: 7 p.m. April 8. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.

    Where: Porter Memorial Baptist Church, 4300 Nicholasville Rd. Additional parking and shuttles available at Pax Christi Catholic Church, 4001 Victoria Way.

    Information: Call (859) 367-0152.

Even if the University of Kentucky men's basketball team wasn't playing in the NCAA championship game Monday, a good bit of news was going to be generated in Lexington on April 8.

Mayor Jim Gray will be unveiling his budget for the next fiscal year at the 3 p.m. council work session, and in it there should finally be some money set aside to create affordable housing for minimum wage workers.

Shortly after 7 p.m., Gray is scheduled to appear at the 11th Annual Nehemiah Action Assembly of BUILD to accept accolades for the expected $3 million in seed money, peeled from an unexpected surplus, and to explain why there can't be more.

"We will highlight the $3 million," said the Rev. Adam Jones of Open Door Church and co-chair of BUILD. "It is a good first step. However, we need a long-term systemic solution; otherwise the city will continue losing homes for low-wage workers."

But Gray, along with council members who have agreed to come, won't be alone in facing some 1,700 people expected to support BUILD that evening.

Danielle Sanders-Jackson, Fayette Drug Court program director, will be asked to provide training for attorneys so that more eligible drug abusers will be directed to that program.

And one or more state legislators will be asked to co-sponsor a bill in the General Assembly that would limit the amount of interest payday lenders can charge.

The Nehemiah Action Assembly is a culmination of a year of work in which BUILD committee members research and question those in authority about problems that affect our city.

BUILD — Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action — is an interfaith and interracial proactive organization comprising members of 25 religious congregations. Established in 2003, the grass-roots organization, like Louisville's Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together (CLOUT), listens to the concerns of local residents and focuses on problems the group can change. A plan of direct action is developed by committee members.

The three issues this year are affordable housing, drug court and payday lending interest rates.

Jones said BUILD wants more eligible offenders funneled into drug court, a far more successful alternative than incarceration for drug abusers.

BUILD notes that 80 to 90 percent of crimes committed in Lexington are connected to drug abuse. Rehabilitation programs for abusers cost less than incarceration.

Sanders-Jackson agrees.

Currently, 160 people are in the drug court program, she said, and three new programs have been established in recent months: HEAT (Habilitation, Empowerment and Accountability Therapy) for young adult black males, Veterans Treatment Court and Heroin Drug Court. That is a marked difference from recent years, when the state cut the budget for such programs.

BUILD also noted that payday lenders have indebted Kentuckians much longer than advertised, costing consumers $562.65 in fees alone for a $330 loan. BUILD wants interest rates capped at 36 percent.

If none of those issues are resolved at the meeting, Jones said, the group will continue to push for help for their neighbors.

Members have been fighting for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for six years, he said.

"We just keep pushing for it," Jones said. "If we let it go, Lexington is heading in a direction where there are less and less places for low-wage workers to live.

"Everyone deserves a home in our city," he continued. "That's the kind of city we want."

It may turn out to be a very long day for the mayor.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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