By Marilyn Harris, Tiffany Marthaler and Adrienne Bush
In times of natural disasters, providing housing for those in need is one of the first steps taken in rebuilding communities. We must ask our legislature, why in the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent economic disaster, are long term housing strategies not playing a larger role in stimulating our economy and helping families get back on their feet?
Prior to the pandemic, Kentucky was already short 75,000 affordable homes for individuals making less than $13,750 annually, or families of four making less than $20,000. These numbers are only getting worse as families struggle to retain employment, make rent payments, and continue to pay bills without going into further debt.
Although Congress, Gov. Andy Beshear, as well as Louisville Metro Government, have provided some critical short-term solutions through the CARES Act, such as emergency rental assistance and a partial moratorium on evictions, these are only short-term fixes, and it is worth noting that many of these forms of assistance essentially expire at the end of this year. Let us point out that more emergency assistance is needed now at the Congressional level, and the Senate has the power to act today.
Looking forward, however, it is critical to understand that today, we are not only dealing with an affordable housing problem, but with an employment problem as well. As a result of the pandemic, many businesses have shut down permanently or reduce their staff substantially. These jobs won’t be coming back anytime soon, if at all.
Investing in long term solutions for affordable housing development solves multiple problems at one time. It not only provides families with stable housing, but it also puts people back to work – both of which are necessary for a thriving economy.
A report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition details some of the powerful economic impacts of affordable housing. The report projects that the creation of 100 affordable rental homes would create over 160 jobs in the first year, generate almost $12 million in local income, over $2 million in taxes and other government funding – all of which helps local businesses and local governments.
Investing in affordable housing development takes a major commitment on behalf of the state to allocate the necessary resources and forge the partnerships required to begin to address the critical need of affordable housing throughout the state.
One important resource the state must consider is the provision of a state affordable housing tax credit. There are currently 19 states, including Missouri, that have a state affordable housing tax credit program. Several more states, including Kentucky, are proposing legislation to enact a state program.
A state affordable housing tax credit will allow for the creation of new affordable rental housing and preservation of existing rental housing with the end result of providing homes for extremely low-income families, who have borne the brunt of the economic hardship over the last eight months.
We must recognize that housing is critical infrastructure in any thriving community. The benefits are numerous, including the creation of jobs, boosting families’ incomes, and encourages further development. If we want Kentucky to thrive and prosper, we have to make the investment now to support the growth.
With the return of the Kentucky General Assembly in January, it is imperative that we continue to push legislators to recognizes the critical need for affordable housing now and promote funding initiatives to meet these needs instead of cutting them.
We can’t maintain the status quo during the pandemic; we have to be better than we were before we entered this situation and be prepared for the fallout of thousands of families losing their jobs, their savings, and their housing. An affordable housing credit is a common sense way for the Kentucky legislature to strengthen families and communities as we all work toward a comprehensive economic recovery. Let’s build back our Commonwealth better that it was before.
Tiffany Marthaler is the executive director of the Kentucky Affordable Housing Coalition. Marilyn Harris is the director of the Louisville Metro Office of Housing and Community Development. Adrienne Bush is the executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky.