Ten candidates in the May primary for Lexington Urban County Council at-large seats told residents at a candidate forum Wednesday night that more should be done to help the homeless and to ensure that low-wage workers can afford housing in Fayette County.
But candidates differed on the government's role in addressing those issues. The forum was hosted by the Community Action Council, the Catholic Action Center and the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice. The forum focused on homelessness and affordable housing.
"There is no single definition of homeless," said council member Steve Kay. "There's a spectrum. There are people that have substance abuse and mental health issues, and there are some people who are only temporarily homeless." There's no one-size-fits-all solution, he said.
Kay, the sole incumbent at-large council member in the May primary, said some people — children who have aged out of foster care, for example, or people who are leaving abusive relationships — might need only limited assistance for a short time to keep them from slipping into homelessness. Chronically homeless people who have spent years living in shelters or on the streets with serious mental health or substance abuse problems need a strategy that provides housing and then support services; that approach saves money in the long-term through fewer hospitalizations and jail time, Kay said.
Ray DeBolt, a former police officer, prosecutor, public defender and state employee, said poor-paying jobs are part of Lexington's homeless problem and affordable housing crunch.
"We need better jobs, and we need jobs that are not just service (jobs)," DeBolt said.
Keener "Pete" Dyer, who said he is running to help the homeless, said the number of people who are homeless in Lexington continues to grow.
"It's started as a snowflake," Dyer said. "Now it's this big snow bubble." Dyer did not say what he would change about the city's current homeless and affordable housing programs.
The Urban County Council recently voted to set aside $3.5 million for homeless and affordable-housing programs. Housing advocates want a dedicated funding a stream — a portion of a tax — to go toward affordable housing every year. Kay led an effort Tuesday to establish a dedicated funding stream, but the measure failed 8-7.
Sixth District council member Kevin Stinnett voted against the measure. Stinnett, now running as an at-large candidate, said Wednesday that he would support a dedicated funding source for affordable housing, but he said a plan needs to be developed. Goals and accountability are needed, he said.
Richard Moloney, a former council member and former chief administrative officer of Lexington, said he would support a dedicated affordable housing funding source. But he wanted to see the affordable housing plan developed by the city first.
Jerry Moody, who once worked as an operations manager for God's Pantry, said he supported an affordable-housing trust fund. "I would like to see half of that spent on bricks and mortar and half of it spent on services," Moody said. "I would like to see the board of directors made up of the nonprofits in town."
Shannon Buzard, a housewife and first-time candidate, said she would like to see an audit first of the local housing authority and how it spends its money. Buzard said that at one time, the authority had more than $6 million in reserves. Yet it also had a long list of people waiting for housing assistance.
Three candidates in the race did not attend Wednesday night's forum: Bill Cegelka, Chris Logan and Connie Kell.
The top six vote-getters in the nonpartisan May 20 primary election will move on to the general election in November. The top vote-getter in November will be vice mayor. The second- and third-place finishers will serve four years as at-large council members.