Editorials

Can’t build community on evictions

Phyllis Myers has evicted from after living a decade in a shotgun house on Seventh Street. After living for five months without water, an advocate eventually called building inspection, which condemned her home. Thanks to housing advocates, she was able to find a rent-subsidized apartment off of Elm Tree Lane, where she has been since July 2016.
Phyllis Myers has evicted from after living a decade in a shotgun house on Seventh Street. After living for five months without water, an advocate eventually called building inspection, which condemned her home. Thanks to housing advocates, she was able to find a rent-subsidized apartment off of Elm Tree Lane, where she has been since July 2016. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Eviction is expensive — for tenants, for landlords, for a community.

That’s why Mayor Jim Gray and the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council must act to stem that cost in our community.

The scope of the problem — over 43,000 court-ordered evictions in Fayette County in 12 years — was laid out in a report on foreclosures, evictions and housing instability in Lexington released last week by the Lexington Fair Housing Council. Relying on national research and local data, the report paints a picture of eviction not so much as a result of poverty but as an incubator for it.

“The loss of stable housing has a greater impact on one’s employment than the loss of employment has on the ability to maintain stable housing,” writes the report’s author Taylor Shelton. It disrupts families, leads to further evictions, future housing in higher-crime neighborhoods, physical and mental health problems among adults, and declining school performance among children in the family.

These are not the building blocks of a successful community.

The results show up in the public schools, where a significant portion of children move during the school year and, even worse, last year an all-time high of over 1,000 students were considered homeless.

In 2014, Lexington created the Office of Affordable Housing to help create and preserve safe, affordable housing in the community. That’s essential and important but building units is a slow and expensive business.

What seems clear from the reporting on this issue last weekend by the Herald-Leader’s Beth Musgrave, is that, while public and private services exist to help individuals and families struggling to pay rent and utilities, they often have trouble finding them. While there is no central coordinating office, the people affected rarely have computers and sometimes have limited access to telephones.

The Fair Housing Council’s report calls on the city to form a task force to take on this problem and search for solutions. We agree that’s a prudent first step, but Lexington has already created a model in addressing the related problem of homelessness that could serve well here.

The Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention, established in 2014, serves as a clearinghouse for public and private efforts to prevent homelessness. It was set up to coordinate efforts, identify where there are gaps and direct public money effectively to fill those gaps.

In three years, the number of homeless people in Lexington has dropped by 27 percent.

As the city takes on the related challenge of stemming evictions to increase housing stability, it will be important to avoid demonizing either landlords or tenants.

While there are no doubt bad actors in each category, the focus cannot be to shame or blame, but to work toward solutions.

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