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Lexington affordable housing discussed

They were in church, so everyone was polite and certainly respectful, but it was clear there is a disagreement between Mayor Jim Newberry and an interfaith group looking to find money for affordable housing in Lexington.

A mayoral commission recommends a 1 percent increase in insurance premium tax with the money raised, about $4 million annually, to support an affordable housing trust fund.

Before about 175 people at a meeting of BUILD — Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action — Monday night at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in downtown Lexington, Newberry said he supports his commission's recommendations and is ready to bring a proposed ordinance creating the fund before city commissioners. However, he said, the proposal he will provide will suggest that money come from the city's general fund and not additional taxes.

Homeowners already are facing taxes for other city initiatives such as sewer repair, the mayor said.

The estimated tax increase would be about $15 to a home and auto owner.

Responding to the mayor, church leaders said they are concerned that creating a housing fund without a guaranteed annual funding source could blunt the effectiveness of any effort.

"There are many citizens here tonight who are saying ... we are ready to help other citizens from falling through the cracks," said the Rev. Joseph Owens of Shiloh Baptist Church.

Research by BUILD members shows 45 percent of Fayette County renters pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent. And nearly 15 percent of renters pay half of their income for rent and are considered at an increased risk for homelessness.

As much of downtown and other parts of the city are redeveloped, there is heightened concern that lower-income residents will lose their homes.

In April, Newberry pledged to create the affordable-housing trust fund for low-income residents who are displaced by new developments.

In late May, he announced a 47-member task force to work on the trust fund. The goal is to have it operational by 2009.

Also on Monday night, the Rev. Adam Jones of Open Door Church congratulated the mayor for trying to help mobile home residents displaced when their lots are bought and developed.

A proposed ordinance sponsored by Linda Gorton would allocate $50,000 to help mobile home residents. A mobile home resident displaced by development would receive $1,000 in relocation assistance.

The proposal is expected to be discussed at Thursday night's council meeting and again on Nov. 20.