Affordable housing is a complicated issue. Not to be confused with “low-income” or “subsidized” housing, “affordable” means only that the housing can be had, without serious burden, by anyone making the median income as determined by state or county. In laymen’s terms, affordable housing is a social contract by which we vow not to let housing costs rise beyond what is reasonable for any area. A city with affordable housing is one where people of all incomes can find a decent, safe place to live with their families, with enough money left over for food, clothing and education.
Louisville should always be such a city.
A recent study reveals that Louisville’s share of affordable housing is above the national average, but insufficient to meet city-wide needs. We have just 32 affordable housing units per 100 extremely low-income households. That leaves 68 low-income families in dire need of a place where they can afford to live in a city that relies on their work and contributions.
We tend to frame arguments around the “problem” of affordable housing, but that argument is misleading. “Problem” implies there is a solution, a way to make the problem go away. Affordable housing isn’t a problem — it’s a need. And since income falls on a curve and some incomes will always fall below the median, affordable housing for those who make less than the median income will always be a need that we, as a community, have to consciously rise to meet.
Affordable housing will be different things for different people. In 2016, the median income in Louisville was around $50,000. For those in our city who make $15 an hour — still well above the new city minimum wage of $8.25 an hour — gross income for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, without a single vacation day, is just over $31,000.
People who make $31,000 a year make less than the median. And they still need somewhere to live. We, as a city, should commit to making sure that they — and our many, many fellow citizens who still make less a year than even that — have it.
A recent proposal to add some affordable housing units to the neighborhood of Norton Commons here in Louisville has given us an opportunity to think about what kind of city we want to be. The proposed housing would be for those earning between $28,000 and $44,000 a year. Many college-educated people reading this earn a salary that falls within that range — hardworking nurses, entrepreneurs, restaurant workers and others throughout the city. Yet dozens of residents of Norton Commons came together to express dismay at the idea that these residents would live next door to them, as reported by WFPL.
“Louisville has a significant under-served demand for affordable housing choices, particularly for working families of modest resources. Our project is intended to address that need: to provide a housing choice for young working families that work in the Norton Commons area, but that cannot afford the market rents there,” Steve Kersey, the developer of the new housing, said in an interview. “They want to live close to work and walk their kids to school and the park … and stay invested in the community they’re already invested in.”
Is it truly a radical idea that we should take steps to ensure that Louisville is — and remains — an affordable place for families to live? Louisville has always been a unique city — the gateway to the South. We value brotherhood, diversity and inclusiveness. We should stop talking about affordable housing as a problem that needs a solution but instead as a human and community need that requires support and resources. It’s not going away. No matter how high income rises and how expensive homes become, there will always be a group of citizens who need access to affordable housing. When a community ignores this basic human right to shelter, then the community has misconceived its own success and lost sight of the term “community” at its most basic sense. We aren’t that community. Let’s commit to keeping it that way.
This findCRA Commentary was published by Insider Louisville on September 15, 2016.