Justice Matters asks Lawrence, Douglas County leaders to commit on affordable housing, criminal justice review

April 13, 2016. The Lawrence Journal-World.

City and county leaders expressed support — but didn’t make specific commitments — on what was asked of them in front of almost 2,000 people at an annual Justice Matters assembly Wednesday.

Big push for more affordable housing in Hillsborough

April 4, 2016. WTSP.

1,300 people in Hillsborough County will push for a big change Monday. They want safe and affordable housing options on their side of the bay and they won’t stop fighting until local leaders find a solution.

Monday night at St Lawrence Catholic Church on Himes Avenue in Tampa they’ll meet face-to-face with county leaders to find a solution.

Lawrence affordable housing conference explores ways to find funding for new housing options

July 17, 2015. Lawrence Journal-World.

Affordable housing is difficult to find in Lawrence, attendees at a one-day conference Friday to explore ways to increase the number of affordable residences were told.

Almost 40 percent of Lawrence residents spend more than 30 percent of their

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.

Lawrence Justice Matters gathering produces little drama, much agreement

May 7, 2015. Lawrence Journal-World.

Any tension or disagreement that was expected at Justice Matters’ Nehemiah Action Assembly never showed Thursday night.

Lawrence Mayor Jeremy Farmer said he was committed to creating an affordable housing trust fund that would supply local housing agencies with enough resources to eliminate waiting lists, “hopefully much, much before 2019.” Vice-Mayor Leslie Soden agreed to the same.

Justice Matters is a coalition of 21 local religious organizations that have set out to help tackle justice issues. After announcing the group’s formation last fall, members spent several months researching how to solve gaps in affordable housing and mental health care.

The purpose of the Nehemiah Action Assembly was to present those solutions and ask local officials for a clear stance on them, organizers said. A minimum number of city and county commissioners were able to attend after both bodies determined there could be open meetings law violations if a majority of members attended.

The event featured:

• All of the officials that appeared on stage Thursday — Farmer, Soden, Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center CEO David Johnson — agreeing to forming and sitting on a consortium that would create a comprehensive plan to coordinate improved mental health care.

• Khatib agreeing that all Lawrence police officers and “relevant staff” would receive instruction in Crisis Intervention Training by Jan. 1, 2018. The training informs officers how to deal with individuals experiencing mental health crises. Khatib said in April the training was already planned to be introduced to the force this September.

• Gaughan agreeing to be Justice Matters’ “champion for a crisis stabilization center” that would help divert non-violent, mentally ill individuals away from the county jail and also treat those who voluntarily arrive there.

Farmer said affordable housing is an issue he focused on well before Justice Matters approached him with the trust fund idea. Earlier this year, Farmer said he took a trip to Austin, Texas, to tour affordable housing the city offers to at-risk populations, including the formerly homeless and foster program graduates. Farmer said he was “blown away” by what he saw and had city staff begin researching affordable housing options.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes for people in our community to step up and to help folks have a better, more prosperous life,” Farmer said. “I’m committed to creating an affordable housing trust fund.”

Farmer said after the assembly Thursday that he did not know how the goal would be achieved. Farmer said that first, “community conversations” needed to begin on the topic, followed by “planning” and “strategy.”

“We have to deal with the ‘what’ first — the ‘how’ comes second,” Farmer said. “There are varying opinions on the ‘how.’ We have many priorities as a city on public safety, but social services in this community are just as high on the list.”

Some controversy around the nature of the Nehemiah Action Assembly flared up earlier this week after members of the Douglas County Commission expressed uneasiness about making certain commitments at an informal hearing.

The county is already researching whether it needs to build a crisis stabilization center like the one Justice Matters described — as well as expand its county jail to combat rising inmate populations.

Commissioner Jim Flory said it was his understanding that officials would be asked at the event to commit to building a crisis center and separate that project from the jail expansion, which are being treated as one enterprise. All members of the commission said they could not make those commitments, at least at this time.

Other events titled the “Nehemiah Action Assembly” hosted by groups related to Justice Matters across the country, including one in Topeka, have proven confrontational and tense.

However, no official was asked to make those specific commitments Thursday. The evening did not feature any conflict.

“It went awesome. It went amazing,” Gaughan said after the event. “It’s a reflection of Lawrence and Douglas County, the ambition people have.”