Lexington's City Hall was the site of another discussion of affordable housing issues Tuesday. Among council members and housing advocates alike, most all involved agree Kentucky's second largest city lacks enough affordable housing.
Despite a lengthy council meeting focused on the topic, a solution remains elusive.
The just-released report is titled “Lexington’s Affordable Housing Challenge and Potential Strategy” It was offered to Council members in front of a packed chambers and a downstairs overflow room. Consultant Charles Buki says there’s no question Lexington faces a major lack of affordable housing. “You can’t duck it. There’s no bobbing. There’s no weaving. We can’t find anything you can hide under. There’s no way to validate the view that you don’t have a significant affordable housing challenge,” said Buki. Buki told Council the city is short about six thousand affordable rental units and, if nothing is done, that shortage will grow by 400 a year. Council member Julian Beard asked where this housing would be located. Buki says it’s not a problem that requires a great deal of new construction. “What you are really dealing with here is not a shortage of units, but a shortage of units that already exist that aren’t affordable or that exist now and that aren’t affordable and that are substandard,” added Buki. That comment brought a collective "um-huh" from many of the affordable housing advocates in the room. Establishing an affordable housing trust fund in Lexington has been talked about for years. The money could go toward loans and grants to developers and individuals for low to moderate income housing activities. The most often cited funding source has been a one percent tax on insurance premiums. Council member Steve Kay made a motion to set aside one percent from the existing insurance surcharge and not create an additional tax. It still brought up questions on how that might impact current programs. Council member Chuck Ellinger sought to limit any initial trust fund allocation to four million dollars. “We’re taking this out of a piece of pie right now that we’re not increasing our revenues. We’re only taking out what we already have, so we have to look at our basic services, our public safety, our new senior citizens center, streets and roads. All those other things that still have to be paid for,” said Ellinger. Before the Council voted on any method of funding the affordable housing trust fund, Council member Bill Farmer asked Mayor Jim Gray if he might put money in his recommended budget for affordable housing. Gray indicated he is inclined to do just that. That suggestion was welcomed by other council members like Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, “There are so many questions and so many different proposals that I would prefer mayor to see what you put in your budget and then we have all of April, all of May, and all of June to change the money, the revenue if we want." A motion to put off a decision until Gray offers his budget, passed eight to seven with the mayor breaking the tie. Afterwards, some supporters of the affordable housing initiative went away disappointed. Among them was Robert Blake, who commented. “I think we saw a lot of good points made on both sides, but a lot of debate for something that’s been talked about for a long period of time and they still can’t get their act together to come to some kind of a resolution." For now, Council members and affordable housing advocates await the mayor's budget address on April eighth.