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 income on housing, a standard at which the government considers a household to be financially overburdened, said Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners, a nonprofit agency and sponsor of the affordable housing conference.
In addition, 50 percent of seniors are unable to afford the average cost of housing.
All of that has been compounded by a cut in federal funding for affordable housing of more than 60 percent in the past couple years, Buford said.
“If we want to continue (with the same level of service), then we need to put some local investment in the solution,” she said.
Since spring, representatives of affordable housing groups including Tenants to Homeowners and Justice Matters have been asking Lawrence officials to fund a new affordable housing trust fund that would be used for new and alternative living space for homeless people and low-income residents.
Government officials, nonprofit employees and residents attended Friday’s conference at the Carnegie Building in downtown Lawrence.
Mary Brooks of the Housing Trust Fund Project for the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., was the keynote speaker, and Gus Seelig, director of the Vermont State Housing Trust Fund, discussed how the trust fund works in his state.
Some Lawrence elected officials have said that a study of the affordable housing needs was necessary before funding for a trust fund should be considered.
But Brooks said that another study is not a good idea.
“We study housing needs over and over and over again,” she said. “I think you probably have a study that is a few years old. You can take that study and put a stamp on it and say it’s worse now than it has been ever.”
Brooks said what Lawrence needed to research was revenue options for the affordable housing trust fund.
“That does take some study,” she said, discussing some of the options:
• Hotel-motel tax: Brooks said it might not raise a lot of money but it would be a steady stream of revenue.
• Zoning fees: Brooks said such fees have been controversial in some places but she believed that in the communities where they had been implemented, the fees were working well.
• Tax abatement: Brooks said a review of how tax abatements could be used to help spur affordable housing in the area might be warranted.
“I think it is good for us to do the research we need so we are informed when we present the case and push (elected officials) and encourage them to do something,” Brooks said.