Jefferson County members help secure nearly $10 million for affordable housing

It's not easy to be a person with progressive values in Kentucky. At the moment, our federal and state policy makers are overwhelmingly pushing a conservative agenda that goes against our values. It may be difficult to find a lot of good news right now, but recently the Jefferson County KFTC Chapter was able to be part of a coalition that helped influence Louisville’s Metro Council to dedicate more than 3 times as much money to affordable housing than ever before.

The story behind the coalition’s success serves not only as a respite from the constant barrage of bad news, but also as a roadmap for how to organize and influence meaningful change.

Louisville’s lack of affordable housing is a long-chronicled problem. In 2008, the Metro Council commissioned a study that found that Louisville requires an additional 60,000 units of affordable housing. Having enough quality affordable housing is important because low-income families struggling to keeping a roof over their heads have a much more difficult time affording other necessities like food, education, and transportation. Lack of affordable housing has been shown to have a correlation with higher rates of poverty and crime.

In response to Metro Council’s study, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund was created as a community organization tasked with helping create more affordable housing.The study suggested Metro Council needed to allocate $10 million a year to the trust fund to address the city’s need. Despite this recommendation, the city did not invest enough in the trust fund for any housing projects for the next 7 years. Last year, Metro Council funded the trust fund at $2.5 million, or 25% of what the city requires.

Over the summer of 2016, a number of members of the Jefferson County KFTC chapter were exploring the concept of participatory budgeting. Participatory budgeting is a process of direct community input on government budget decisions. After looking into the issue, the group realized that despite the importance of the city’s over $800 million budget, not a lot of information was available on Louisville’s spending priorities.

As a result of this lack of information, a group of about a dozen KFTC members began work to organize around the city’s budget-making process, eventually releasing an informational primer on the budget, "The People’s Guide to the Budget." The process that created the guide involved chapter members working once a week for around 3 months to delve into the function of the city budget and the process in which it is created.

The guide is not only a primer on how the city budget works, but also includes a few of the chapter’s budget recommendations. One of these recommendations was to fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund at $10 million. KFTC members showed up and spoke at multiple Metro Council meetings urging them to fully fund the trust fund. In addition, chapter members created an online portal that empowered Louisvillians to learn who to contact about the budget and issues they care about.

KFTC was not alone in pushing for the full funding of the trust fund. Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT, is an affiliation of 19 religious congregations that seek to harness their political power to influence change and hold leaders accountable. Long before KFTC got involved, CLOUT had set the goal of getting the trust fund to $10 million. A large part of CLOUT’s strategy involved consistently being able to organize a large number of people to show up at every Metro Council meeting and demand the trust fund be fully funded.

According to Beverly Duncan, who headed CLOUT’s advocacy efforts to fund the trust fund, “In 2016 and 2017, CLOUT coordinated more than 50 speakers from more than 9 Metro Council districts to make statements at Metro Council meetings to build support for funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. More than 50 CLOUT members also attended at least 24 meetings with individual Metro Council members and got 4 Metro Council members to attend CLOUT's annual assembly in March.” CLOUT’s strategy and ability to effectively achieve such an active political presence cannot be understated as a reason that the trust fund was eventually funded.

When Mayor Fischer released his proposed budget in April, the trust fund was only given $2.5 million. While advocates were disappointed with the mayor’s proposal, their presence at Metro Council meetings left them optimistic that the trust fund would at least receive a bit more than what the mayor proposed. Many advocates thought that the council may give the trust fund around $5 million, a welcome increase, but not quite to what advocates had been asking for. In the end CLOUT and KFTC’s work and persistence paid off. Metro Council ended up allocating $9.3 million to the trust fund, which is more than 3 times what the mayor proposed and more than has ever been put into affordable housing.

The members of KFTC who worked on the People’s Guide to the Budget put dozens of hours of volunteer time into educating and organizing folks around the city budget. CLOUT and KFTC were able to consistently show up to Metro Council, they were clear in what they wanted, and they made their voices heard as a group. The main takeaway from the campaign for the trust fund is that when people pick an issue they care about and show up, it can have a huge impact. Going forward the Jefferson County chapter hopes to grow our grassroots power by building strong ally relationships, organizing a meaningful physical presence and expanding our digital lobbying capabilities for those unable to show up in person.

Jefferson County members help win nearly $10 million for affordable housing from Kentuckians For The Commonwealth on Vimeo.

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