Fischer seeks $12M for 1,500 housing units

May 15, 2015. The Courier-Journal.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is proposing an ambitious $12 million initiative that would use a mix of city funds and a 30-year bond to create 1,500 affordable housing units over two years.

The mayor launched Louisville Creating Affordable Residences for Economic Success (CARES) on Friday as part of his upcoming budget proposal to help the estimated 60,000 households in need of affordable housing because they spend at least one-third of their income on housing, according to Fischer’s office.

Of those families, nearly 24,000 are considered severely burdened because they will spend half of their earnings on housing costs.

“Having decent, safe and affordable housing is the most basic need for families,” he said. “Yet, in Louisville, that home is out of reach for too many of our families, too many of our citizens and too many of our children. This is a down payment on a long-term plan to address that challenge.”

Louisville CARES would establish an $11 million evolving loan pool that nonprofit and for-profit developers could use to help build multi-family units across the city. If approved by the Metro Council, the loan fund would be available on a competitive basis to home builders at the end of the year and the first funds could be awarded early next year.

The initiative seeks to create roughly 750 new affordable units and, through housing policies, convert another 750 units into affordable units as people who were paying more then move in, according to Fischer’s office.

The mayor described the 1,500 units as a “down payment” toward a goal of creating or retaining 24,000 affordable units by 2030.

Under the mayor’s plan, metro government would also set aside $1 million to purchase land for the construction of affordable housing near major job centers.

Fischer said his plan would be a boost to the local economy, including plumbers, electricians, masons and other home builders.

“If I can’t win you over on the moral argument, we simply cannot be economically competitive without it,” Fischer said. “We cannot create the quality workforce that businesses require if people don’t have a stable home in which to raise a family.”

The new initiative would be run by Louisville Forward, the city’s development arm, with an annual $1.3 million in general funds going toward its administration and debt service. It will receive strategic direction from the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will help draft parameters for the loans and review developer’s applications.

Housing advocates in attendance praised the mayor’s plan though some grassroots leaders who have petitioned for more affordable housing bemoaned the lack of a dedicated revenue stream for the trust fund.

“While it has taken longer than it should have, and while this is only a first step that does not yet meet the goal of investing $10 million per year, this signals that CLOUT has succeeded in communicating to Mayor Fischer that something has to be done now by us locally,” said the Rev. Larry Sykes, co-president of the faith-based Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together.

“Citizens must continue to hold Mayor Fischer and Metro Council accountable to their commitment to secure ongoing dedicated public revenue, and CLOUT is committed to do that by continuing to push for a one percentage point increase in the insurance premium tax,” he said.

Budget Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, 5th-District, said council members will move forward on a proposed financial impact study to raise the insurance premium tax to support the trust fund and will carefully review the 30-year bond and its financial consequences in the mayor’s plan during their June budget hearings.

“It’s always good to get the buy-in upfront,” said Hamilton, who was briefed on the initiative in the days before the mayor’s announcement. “And I think most of the council members support this, but dealing with the budget you never know.”

The mayor is scheduled to deliver his budget address May 28 at City Hall.

CLOUT seeks expanded bus service to job centers

April 20, 2015. The Courier-Journal.

A faith-based organization received concessions from Louisville and state officials to help expand bus service at employment centers during its annual assembly on Monday.

The Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT, held its “Nehemiah” action assembly at the Memorial Auditorium on Fourth Street to pressure policymakers on public transit and a number of other issues.

Louisville’s unemployment rate is approximately 5 percent, according to state data. But activists and clergy with CLOUT point out it is around 24 percent in some economically depressed neighborhoods that are far removed from burgeoning job centers.

Joined by nearly 1,100 members who sought commitments from officials, CLOUT said it is critical for the city’s busing system to improve routes going to industrial parks, such as Riverport in southwest Jefferson County.

“Individuals need jobs and they want jobs, and those jobs are out at Riverport,” said the Rev. Reginald Barnes of Brown Memorial C.M.E. Church. “But the situation is that many people can’t get to them. If they have adequate transportation, then they can get to the jobs and begin to support themselves.”

The assembly asked Metro Council members in attendance along with Riverport employers and officials from the Kentuckiana Regional Planning & Development Agency to support a $3 million federal grant over three years that TARC is seeking to establish a circulator bus route to Riverport. And they agreed.

Riverport is home to at least 115 companies and approximately 7,000 jobs, including eBay, LG&E and Yokohama Tire Corp.

TARC currently provides eight trips to the Riverport area through its No. 19 bus line.

The city’s busing service also made schedule adjustments and changed arrival and departure times at stops in response to expanding shifts.

TARC Executive Director Barry Barker, who attended the assembly, committed to meeting with stakeholders. The grant requires a 20 percent local match in contributions for any amount TARC receives in federal funding.

“It’s not in the budget currently; we’re going to have to figure out where we’re going to get it,” Barker said.

CLOUT’s dissatisfaction with the city’s busing system was echoed by Riverport businesses, who also have voiced frustrations with the lack of connecting public transit.

In a survey conducted by the Riverport Business Association, 82 percent of employers who responded said they were dissatisfied with the current busing service.

Employers highlight the lack of routes during third shift hours from 11:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., and no trips during the weekends as something hurting job seekers, small businesses and the local economy.

“I bring in 800 employees every Christmas holiday season and I have to go through about 1,500 because some can’t make it every day,” said Keith Pataluna, vice president of Café Press, an online retailer that employs more than 300 workers at Riverport. “People just can’t get there. It’s just really tough for us.”

CLOUT’s assembly also lobbied council members on approving a revenue stream for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, state officials on regulating predatory loan practices and Jefferson County schools on closing the achievement gap along racial lines.

Push on Again to Limit Payday Loans in KY

February 9, 2015. Public Service News.
FRANKFORT, Ky. – There is no limit in Kentucky on how much interest payday lenders can charge, but an effort is underway to change that.
PHOTO: Lawmakers in Kentucky are being urged to cap interest rates at 36 percent on payday loans offered at businesses like this one. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.

PHOTO: Lawmakers in Kentucky are being urged to cap interest rates at 36 percent on payday loans offered at businesses like this one. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.

Congregations and religious groups across the state are among those pushing lawmakers to cap payday loans at 36 percent. Jason Hall, executive director with the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, says the loans are a “debt trap.”

“It is a trap where people are forced to roll over one loan after another and it drains them of what resources they have.”

A bill filed in the Kentucky Senate (SB 32) proposes to cap interest and fees at the same level Congress has capped loans to military families.

The 36 percent cap is also where Kentucky law sets the ceiling for other types of small loans.

In Louisville, a group of congregations has banded together to push for the cap. The coalition calls itself CLOUT, short for Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together. Jimmy Mills, vice president of CLOUT, attends Mosaic Methodist Church and says the lending rates boggle the mind.

“It’s just outrageous, it’s usury, it is overcharging,” Mills says. “It’s just taking too much money out of people who have the least amount of money.”

But the Kentucky Deferred Deposit Association, an advocate for the industry, says it’s a myth payday lenders prey on the disadvantaged. On it’s website, the association claims “most payday advance customers are working adults from the middle class.”

The trade group says regulating payday lenders would hurt consumers. Mills doesn’t buy that.

“They won’t do anything unless they are forced to,” he says. “Because they are making too much money the way it is.”

Mills says he’s for the cap on interest rates, in part, because he’s had a personal experience. He says he “bailed out” a family member who turned to payday loans because she was “too embarrassed to ask anybody for help.”

Louisville becomes a “Ban the Box” city

Louisville, KY — At CLOUT’s 2013 Nehemiah Action Assembly, several members of the Louisville Metro Council committed to sponsor an ordinance to implement new hiring practices within Louisville Metro government and for businesses who do business with local government in order to remove barriers to employment for persons with a criminal record. Specifically, they committed to make Louisville a “Ban the Box” city, and to extend that policy to vendors and contractors who do business with the city.

After several months of work, including many appearances by CLOUT leaders before Metro Council’s full sessions and committee meetings, in March 2014 the Council voted unanimously (26-0) to pass the “Ban the Box” ordinance. With this vote, Louisville Metro became only the 16th city in the U.S. to pass this policy and to extend it to vendors and contractors.

This policy is not only a compassionate way to help families get back on their feet, but is also a smart move by the city to address crime and the costs of incarceration and the courts. It will help thousands of individuals and families be able to support themselves by getting a job, and it will help the business community by providing a deeper pool of motivated and skilled employees.

CLOUT demands school discipline changes

April 21, 2014. The Courier-Journal.

They prayed, they sang, they held up signs and they made demands — for an end to zero tolerance policies in Jefferson County Public Schools that have resulted in 9,093 suspensions so far this year — 68 percent of them of students who are black.

About 120 members of CLOUT — Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together — crowded into a school board meeting Monday and insisted that the district adopt “restorative practices,” in which misbehaving students are dealt with in school, through conflict resolution, rather than being sent home and onto the streets.

Taylor Johnson, an eighth-grader at the Brown School, testified that it doesn’t do any good to suspend a pair of students who fight — unless their issues are resolved — because they will fight again when they return.

“Zero tolerance is a disservice to all students,” she said.

Brandon Porter, another eighth-grader at Brown, said zero tolerance keeps students from aiding students who are bullied — for fear they also will be suspended — and makes schools more dangerous.

Paula Broyles, a teacher and parent, cited the story of a boy who she said was pulling some change out of his pocket at a school concession stand when his pocketknife came out too.

He had to be expelled, she said, over the protests of teachers, because he had a weapon.

Members of the Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together group held a prayer vigil and demonstrated in front of the Jefferson Co. Public Schools Board of Education on Monday night. April 21, 2014  (Photo: Michael Dossett, Special to The CJ)

And Chris Harmer, the head of the Louisville chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, said that in Boston, which adopted district-wide restorative practices a few years ago, only about 150 students were suspended last year — about 1 percent of the number in Louisville.

But Superintendent Donna Hargens was unswayed.

She said CLOUT, with which she’s met 16 times since her appointment in 2011, insists on imposing “one solution to a multifaceted issue.”

Defending the district’s approach, which includes what it calls “positive, preventive and supportive approaches” — but also making sure students understand the rules — she said, “We are not going to reduce suspensions by ignoring misconduct.”

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