Lexington council and mayor vote to table affordable housing trust fund; Central Kentucky KFTC members mobilize

Rupp Arena is known throughout the state and the nation as the home of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team. For many, Rupp Arena is a symbol of pride and legacy. It can also be a symbol of something else in Lexington: the number of people who cannot afford housing would fill up Rupp Arena twice.

One in five people in Fayette County cannot afford to live there, and on February 25 the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government showed where their priorities lie. They tabled a vote to establish an affordable housing trust fund for Fayette County, yet have found no problem funding projects such as $1 million for the 21c Museum Hotel and $5.5 million dollars in design costs for a redesign of Rupp Arena.Affordable, energy-efficient housing

“We have done study after study on this issue and we are still studying. We don’t need to wait or study any longer. We know what the problem is and we need to take action,” said KFTC member and community activist Teddi Smith-Robillard at a recent meeting of the Mayor’s Commission on Housing and Homelessness. “The mayor has already spent over $5 million on Rupp Arena and they haven’t moved or dusted off one brick yet, but we cannot create a fund for affordable housing. There’s something wrong with this picture.”  

Smith-Robillard’s comments were met with applause from the crowd.

The Central Kentucky KFTC Chapter has worked with local allies to push for the creation of an affordable housing trust fund for Fayette County. The decision to table the vote proved to be a reminder of why this issue is so important.

The campaign to create a trust fund has been pushed by local allies, primarily BUILD (Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action), for the past seven years.

The trust fund is a pool of money from a dedicated funding source that creates quality, affordable housing in Lexington, for people who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. At the hearing, Councilman Steve Kay proposed dedicating 1 percent of the current 5 percent insurance premium tax to be a dedicated funding source to begin an affordable housing trust fund.

At the council meeting, council members heard from consultants who completed the latest in a series of studies over the years that let citizens and local government know exactly how severe this problem is.

According to the study by CZB Consultants, 6,000 households are paying more than 30 percent of their wages for rent or live in substandard or overcrowded conditions. And Lexington is losing 400 more affordable units every year. Right now, it would cost $36 million to address the city’s housing crisis.

After discussion of Kay’s proposal, the council decided to delay action and table the proposal until April 15, after Mayor Jim Gray’s budget address on April 8.

Mayor Gray stated that he would put money in the budget for affordable housing, but he did not disclose how much. The vote to table was tied, with seven council members voting to take action on the proposal and seven voting to table the issue. Mayor Gray cast the deciding vote that tabled the trust fund.

Council members Chris Ford, Shavawn Akers, Harry Clarke, Diane Lawless, Kevin Stinnett and Chuck Ellinger voted against tabling. Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, council members Peggy Henson, Ed Lane, Jennifer Scutchfield, George Myers, Julian Beard and Bill Farmer voted to table.  

“I’m disappointed for low- to moderate-income people in Lexington who want to stay here and live and work,” council member Ford said. “I’m disappointed, Mayor Gray, and I will say this publicly, in your vote to table discussion. If we were talking about Rupp Arena, I’m certain that 7-7 vote to table would have gone differently.”

Despite the mayor’s commitment to include money for affordable housing in the budget, the trust fund needs a dedicated source of funding and not just a one-time line item in the budget. Louisville has an affordable housing trust fund, but it has struggled due to a lack of dedicated funding. Lexington has the opportunity to learn from Louisville and establish the trust fund with a dedicated funding source so that it can be effective from its inception.

“Every month is a struggle, and even though I love living in this town and want to see it become a better place, it feels like the mayor and city council don’t want folks like me to live here,” said KFTC member Greg Capillo.

Even though the decision was discouraging to members and citizens throughout Fayette County, the chapter and other allies are using it as a way to mobilize.

KFTC members and allies are looking for ways to continue to highlight the issue and push forward for a dedicated source of funding for the affordable housing trust fund.

Come to CKY chapter meetings or contact Beth Howard, CKY chapter organizer, at bethhoward@kftc.org for more information and to get involved.

The next meeting is Thursday, March 20 at 7 p.m. at The Episcopal Mission House.

Every voice matters. If you live in Fayette County, be sure to reach out to your Lexington Fayette Urban County Council member and to Mayor Jim Gray and let them know you support the creation of an affordable housing trust fund with a dedicated funding source for Lexington. Find contact information for your council member and Mayor Jim Gray at www.lexingtonky.gov.

If you are a resident of Fayette County and have difficulty affording housing and would be willing to share your story with others, contact Beth Howard at bethhoward@kftc.org or call the Central Kentucky KFTC office at 859-276-0563.

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