May 5, 2016. The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Topeka JUMP, a consortium of 20 local churches, presented a proposal Thursday evening to create a fund dedicated to increasing access to safe and affordable housing.

“We are here to take action,” said Pam Ensley with JUMP.

More than 500 people gathered for the forum which was at the Downtown Ramada.

“I think it’s pretty important because it’s the voice of the average citizen. We’re advocating for folks that really don’t have a strong voice,” said Anne Martinez with JUMP. “We’re seeking justice in our community.”

The organization contends that more than 7,000 people in Shawnee County lack safe and affordable housing options.

Ray Robinson with JUMP reported on economic disparities that affect local families. In 2011, about half of all renters spent more than 50 percent of their income on rent and in many cases, it was for substandard housing, he said. Substandard housing conditions could include lead hazards, dilapidation, unsanitary conditions and threats to safety. Robinson said that there are about 2,000 people on a waiting list for housing through the Topeka Housing Authority.

“Housing is important for everybody. There are too many people that don’t have a place to stay,” said attendee Sylvia Hopper.

Mayor Larry Wolgast addressed the crowd, calling housing “a critical issue.” He also said that the city is committed to neighborhoods and issues in neighborhoods. Wolgast said $2.6 million is spent on affordable housing programs in Topeka. Those funds are primarily federal, though some are matched by the city. Programs assist families in staying in their home or rental unit as well as upgrading and rehabilitating residences. Organizations such as Topeka Habitat for Humanity, Cornerstone and the Hi-Crest Housing Coalition partner with Topeka to address housing, Wolgast noted.

JUMP is calling for the formation of a task force to design a housing trust fund. The fund would be made up of private and public resources that will support families making less than $20,000 a year, transitional housing, rehabilitation and emergency repairs and increased home-ownership. The organization hopes the task force will be able to present a plan to the city council by October.