LEXINGTON, Ky. — Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton gave her annual State of the City/County address on Tuesday, covering various topics, one being affordable housing and housing stability.
In Lexington, 6,000 households faced some sort of economic setback due to the pandemic. In response to the pandemic, the city has operated its Housing Stabilization Program, funded on federal dollars to provide primarily rent payment assistance and utility bill assistance to those in need.
Since February 2021, the program has paid out nearly $41 million in rent or utilities, but the end of its funding is coming. Charlie Lanter, Lexington's commissioner for housing advocacy and community development, said the city received its final allocation of funds last month.
“All of the housing stabilization funds came from the U.S. Treasury Department as part of pandemic response. We received in December $15.8 million in what we know will be our final allocation of those funds," Lanter said.
Due to this, the program will now prioritize only tenants who are facing eviction and have an active case in the Fayette District Court or by referral from a partner agency that serves vulnerable residents such as those who are in a domestic violence situation.
“If they do find themselves in court, to get them legal counsel because research has shown that the outcomes are significantly improved when tenants have access to counsel," Lanter said.
Lanter said the program will also help line tenants up with housing they can afford without missing a payment. However due to this shift in priorities the program will no longer be able to provide utility assistants to residents. Lanter said it's unfortunate but the city's partner, Community Action Council has a "large" program in place that can pick up that assistance.
The biggest resource for utility assistance will be LIHEAP which is through Community Action Council," Lanter said.
Stefanie Ebbens-Kingsley is a housing justice attorney with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. Kingsley said Lexington has had a better approach than other cities in the Commonwealth when it comes to seeking housing stability.
“Those case managers are really social workers and hand holders to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to keep that family together and to keep that family housed," Kinglsey said.
Ebbens-Kingsley said there is a crisis in Lexington for accessibility to affordable housing.
“There isn’t enough affordable housing, there is not enough safe and affordable housing and one of the ways that you can increase access to affordable housing is by decreasing the amount of individuals who are competing for the same units," Kingsley said.
Lanter said the city recognizes this problem and currently over 800 units are under construction, thanks to $11 million in ARPA funds.