A multi-unit complex owned by Mirage Properties in Shawnee neighborhood. May 3, 2021 Alton Strupp/Courier Journal
The coronavirus pandemic has underscored housing disparities between Black and white people in Louisville, with Black residents more likely to face financial hardships that put them behind on rent, according to a report from the Metropolitan Housing Coalition.
The nonprofit agency, made up of more than 300 members, released its latest State of Metropolitan Housing Report on Tuesday, breaking down the struggles residents faced as they attempted to stay “healthy at home” over the last year.
According to the report, Black residents were more likely than white residents to experience layoffs, job losses and pay cuts through the pandemic, leading them to more often miss rent and utility payments.
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People in predominantly Black areas were most likely to be evicted from their homes, despite moratoriums. And foreclosure sales in 2020 were concentrated in areas with larger populations of Black homeowners and renters, the report stated.
Government response to the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn was “uneven, confusing and insufficient across the board,” the report added. And as the city continues to recover, officials must intentionally direct resources to people who need them most, the coalition says.
“We know we had extreme disparities in our community in terms of access to safe and affordable housing, and this pandemic has just magnified that,” said Cathy Kuhn, executive director of the coalition.
“So I think one of the takeaways from this report is that it’s going to be very, very critical that we are strategic in utilizing the unprecedented funding that has been coming into the city to address those disparities and make sure we’re targeting those resources to those who are most vulnerable, those who have the greatest level of need as it relates to housing.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Louisville has directed about $31 million in local and federal funds toward rent and utility assistance.
The city got a big boost in eviction prevention funding in February when it received $22.9 million through the COVID-19 Relief Act. And it stands to receive millions more through the American Rescue Plan Act — funding that will be used to provide emergency rental assistance, utility assistance and housing vouchers.
Black residents made up nearly 72% of those who received rent assistance through the end of March, according to city data.
Census estimates show 64% of Black households rent their homes, compared to 31% of white households.
Kuhn, who joined the coalition in October, said emergency rent assistance is critical for keeping families housed in the short-term. But government officials also need to invest in the construction of affordable housing to increase options for low-income residents and improve their chances for resiliency in the face of future crisis, she said.
“I do think Louisville has done a lot to try to begin to address these issues, but obviously much more needs to be done,” she said. “The recent budget put out by the mayor put a $10 million investment in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. That’s basically level funding. That’s just not going to do it.
“We need to re-prioritize and make more significant investments in affordable housing.”
The coalition’s state of housing report offers a range of recommendations on how the city can increase affordable housing and reduce disparities, including:
►Legal representation for tenants — Establishing a “right to counsel” program would help balance power dynamics that inherently favor the landlord in eviction proceedings, the report states. After the report was already drafted, Metro Council members approved a pilot program that will offer free legal representation to low-income families facing eviction.
►Strengthen the rental registry — City officials should create, maintain and enforce a rental registry that can ensure compliance with housing codes as well as prevent unlawful evictions.
►Just cause eviction protections — City officials should enact “just cause” eviction policies that would provide greater protections for renters by limiting the grounds upon which a landlord may evict a tenant.
►Eviction expungement — State and local officials should enact laws that allow courts to order expungement of an eviction record. Many landlords will not rent to people who have an eviction filed against them, the report states.
►Require affordable housing in new developments — Louisville’s Land Development Code should require the development of affordable housing as a condition to the development of market-rate housing. City officials are working to revise the code in three phases that are expected to take up to two years.
►Build public and affordable housing — Local, state and federal governments should commit to making meaningful investments in the production of housing dedicated to people with the lowest incomes. At the state level, officials should establish a state affordable housing tax credit, and at the city level, officials should increase funding for existing programs and agencies, such as the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
►Make home ownership more affordable — Private and public entities should support programs that help low-income families overcome wealth barriers and keep monthly mortgage payments low.
►Support community land trusts — Community land trusts provide meaningful opportunities for low-income people to build equity through homeownership, while also allowing communities to retain control of the properties. Louisville announced plans to establish a community land trust in two predominantly Black neighborhoods earlier this year.
►Focus interventions through a racial equity framework — Public and private entities should intentionally focus their housing intervention efforts around reducing racial and ethnic disparities.
To read the full report, visit metropolitanhousing.org/annual-reports.