Ky. Voices: City must invest in affordable housing

David Christiansen is executive director of the Central Kentucky Housing and Homeless Initiative.
David Christiansen is executive director of the Central Kentucky Housing and Homeless Initiative.

The May 9 Herald-Leader editorial indicates that a "citywide coordinated approach to helping people with limited resources find a safe place to live" will be materially enhanced by Mayor Jim Gray's decision to request funding in the city budget for "an office to coordinate the city's affordable housing efforts."

This new office can certainly help in some ways, but the overwhelming need in our community is for more affordable housing construction.

For-profit developers cannot make a profit building housing that is affordable to most renter households in Lexington. The cost of land, construction and other development costs far exceed any possibility that rents can be low enough to meet the growing need in our community for affordable rental housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development develops housing data for each metropolitan area in the country and distributes this in reports entitled Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy.

These analyses tabulate housing affordability (defined as paying no more than 30 percent of gross family income for rent and utilities). Recent data for Lexington indicate that only 32 percent of renter households in Lexington are paying affordable rents by HUD standards.

An astonishing 24 percent of Lexington's renter households are now paying more than half their gross income to put a roof over their families.

We cannot expect our Lexington Housing Authority to fill this need. HUD funding for housing assistance for families with low incomes has been cut nationwide by nearly 80 percent in the last three decades (in inflation adjusted dollars).

Housing affordability has become a local issue and a local responsibility. Without a city commitment to developing more affordable rental housing no amount of coordination will make a dent in the challenges that confront families trying to find and maintain housing. There is so much demand for such housing and so little supply, it simply overwhelms most efforts to assist families to find housing they can afford.

What will make a substantial difference is city passage of a fully funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund ordinance. This will enable for-profit and non-profit developers to compete for city funds to develop more affordable housing in our community. It is way past time to study this or take partial measures. It is time to start building and confront this growing problem in our community at its core.

At issue: May 9 Herald-Leader editorial, "City's dearth of affordable housing; Recent crisis underscores the need"

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