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Why people are struggling to find affordable housing in Lexington

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Posted at 7:20 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 10:53:36-04

LEXINGTON (LEX 18) — After searching for a place to live every day for five months, a disabled Lexington woman is now homeless.

Kimberly did not want to share her last name but says she has hit a wall in her search for accessible and affordable housing for her and her teenage daughter. They have been living in temporary spaces at hotels or with friends since February.

"I stay on the phone from the time I wake up to the time that office hours are closed tryna find somewhere," said Kimberly. "I've never been in this situation before. Ever since I was 18, I've always had my own place to live."

That changed suddenly last December when her landlord handed her a notice to vacate.

"I've been panicking ever since the first 30 days, and I got an extension a couple of times, and then after that, I've been staying in hotel rooms for a couple of months," said Kimberly. "Wasn't told why."

On top of trying to find something in the already hot housing market, Kimberly uses a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and a wheelchair to get around.

"I've only found three places. That was downstairs, and all those was like a smidgen off of my income requirements," explained Kimberly.

Section 8 requires participants who choose to use their voucher to find housing within their voucher financial allotment. They're not allowed to use their voucher for housing priced above the voucher amount. Many, like Kimberly say the voucher affordability worksheet needs to be modernized. The sheet gives estimated costs for market rent and utilities.

The one unit she did find was three dollars over her voucher.

"If the landlord is willing to, they could drop it but some places, it's just set in stone. They won't drop the rent $1," said Kimberly.

Kimberly has had a Section 8 housing voucher for nearly 10 years, but this is the first time she's been unable to use it. She's just one of the many stories across Lexington of people looking for affordable housing and not being able to find any.

Since 2014, the city of Lexington has invested $350 million in affordable housing for the creation and preservation of 2,933 units. The mayor's proposed budget for this year adds an additional $2 million.

Every year the city contributes $2 million to the Affordable Housing Fund unless the council chooses to waive it.

According to public records we've obtained, since 2014, money for Lexington's Affordable Housing Fund has helped 46 completed projects creating 1,727 units of affordable housing. However, most of the units that are complete are already full.

Kimberly says getting properties to answer the phone for inquiry requests makes the process even tougher.

"You can call 20 times a day and still not get a callback. I've recalled places I called five months ago and still no callback," she said.

The city's Affordable Housing Fund gives money to non-profit and for-profit developers to build or renovate affordable housing units.

Housing Commissioner Charlie Lanter says each construction project gets a specific amount of money based on need.

"It's either a grant or a loan or bridge loan or construction loan, but most of the funding that we put out is in the form of a loan," said Lanter. "Sometimes they invest because we invest, sometimes we invest because they invest but really it's about - we are the last dollar in, and so we made those projects happen by investing."

An affordable housing project gets regular investments and money from various places. The city only puts some money into the project in the form of a grant or loan. The developers then pay the city back if they have a loan. The money they pay goes right back into the affordable housing fund for future projects.

The fund just got an additional $10 million dollars of federal coronavirus relief funding that must be spent within a certain time. But Lanter says there's a reason why people won't see $10 million work of housing units right away.

"When we start working on these projects, it can take 12 to 18 months before you see a unit come online," said Lanter.

They also need developers who want to partner with them and follow federal affordable housing guidelines, which include keeping the property affordable for 15 years.

Looking at the numbers, 36.5% of current projects cater to a specific population, which limits options even further.

Fourteen projects to create 982 units are still in rehab or under construction, while 209 units haven't been started yet.

For the units that are under construction or soon will be, the rules don't give a specific timeline for completion- just that they have to begin development within 30 days after payment. The rules do say they have to pursue the project with diligence and without delay and submit their plans to the urban county government.

One of the ways Lanter's office can help immediately is by hiring a staff person specifically to help people find affordable housing and that position is now posted online: Affordable Housing positions

The minimum salary is $20.535 per hour. The deadline to apply is May 16.

Lanter says once the position is filled, the housing advocate should be able to help people not getting calls back from properties and will answer the phone in a timely matter.

"That person is gonna report to me," said Lanter. "I tell everyone that works with me if you get a call or an email from a citizen, you have 24 hours to respond."

A promise straight from the housing commissioner.