Metropolitan Housing Coalition Executive Director Cathy Hinko will call on members of Metro Council’s Labor and Economic Development Committee to postpone a vote on tax incentives for two market-rate housing projects along East Broadway until the city can fully assess how much support it provides for affordable housing compared to market-rate housing.
“Slow this down and do an assessment,” she said.
The committee is hosting a public hearing at 4 p.m. today in council chambers to talk about the possibility of awarding a total of $7.5 million in tax breaks to Ohio-based developer Edwards Cos. for its two Louisville projects. The first is a four-story, 195-unit apartment complex on the site of the former Mercy Academy high school on Broadway. The second is a four-story, mixed-use development with retail space and 260 apartments at the corner of Broadway and Baxter Avenue.
The tax breaks for the Edwards Cos. projects would come in the form of a TIF, tax increment financing, district. TIF districts save developers money by allowing them to pay a reduced tax rate for a set number of years, in this case 20 years.
“We are saying, ‘Hey, that is a lot of support for market housing in an area where there is market housing and in an area that isn’t as diverse as we’d want it to be,'” Hinko said.
In return for federal funding, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires cities, including Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, to conduct an Assessment of Fair Housing where cities identify barriers to fair housing and set goals to reduce those barriers for protected classes, including minorities and people with disabilities.
Along with African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos, “female-headed households with children have a much higher poverty rate than the general public, and we also know that people with disabilities have a higher poverty rate,” Hinko said. “If you are supporting market housing, then you are not supporting housing that protected classes have access to.”
Louisville has yet to complete the Assessment of Fair Housing, Hinko said, adding that the city should move forward with that before deciding whether to give tax incentives to developers.
Bill Bardenwerper, the Louisville attorney representing Edwards Cos., this afternoon was optimistic about the committee meeting.
“I’ll expect they’ll pass those two TIF ordinances out of committee today. Everybody seems to like the two projects,” he said.
When asked why neither development includes at least some affordable housing, Bardenwerper declined to answer, saying he’d rather address that question after the meeting.
Although he is not on the committee, Metro Councilman Bill Hollander (D-9) told Insider Louisville that he plans to attend the public hearing but was unsure Monday evening if he would speak.
Hollander, who has been an advocate for affordable housing, currently is drafting a resolution that, if passed, would require multi-family developers asking for city tax incentives to include a certain amount of affordable housing in their projects.
“I think that if we are going to build apartment projects with taxpayer incentives, we should require that there should be some affordable housing in those projects,” Hollander said. “That should be a requirement if you come to the government with your hand out.”
Edwards Cos. was unwilling to add affordable units to its two developments. Hollander said the city needs to be more forceful in its negotiations, requiring affordable units rather than asking developers if they’d be willing to include them.
Some of the people who live in affordable housing units are the city’s emergency services technicians, firefighters and police officers, he added.
The current number being tossed around for Hollander’s resolution is 10 percent of the units must be affordable to people who make 80 percent or less of the median area income, he said.
Metro Councilman David Tandy (D-4) sponsored the two ordinances that would create the TIF districts for the Phoenix Hill and Mercy apartment buildings, which would be built in his district. He was unavailable for comment before press time.
Proponents of TIF districts state that the developments benefit the city in the long-run and generate new tax income for the city for years to come.
To that, Hinko said: “Generating affordable housing also would bring tax benefits, so why aren’t we doing that.”
While she is not against market-rate housing, Hinko said the city needs to focus its funding efforts on affordable housing over private enterprise.
Activists have been beating the drum for affordable housing funding for years.
In the past decade, Louisville has dedicated $16 million of its own money to affordable housing, which the Metropolitan Housing Coalition and other organizations have said is not enough. The city still needs roughly 60,000 more affordable housing units to fill the need locally.
This year, the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund will receive $2.5 million from the city, its first allocation since 2008 when Louisville gave $1.5 million to get the trust fund started.
The remaining $12 million was used to start a new program called Louisville CARES. To qualify for Louisville CARES funding, developers must offer apartments that are affordable to people who make 80 percent or less of the median area income. The median household income for Jefferson County, according to U.S. HUD, is $67,000.
Hinko criticized the program for not focusing on Louisville residents in lower income brackets.