Your Turn: Unaffordable housing can be solved with pennies

We have the opportunity to vote yes Nov. 7, and thereby largely solve the severe, systemic shortage of affordable housing in our community. A yes vote to Item 3 would give a 0.05 percent (one penny for every $20 spent) through a reallocation sales tax for the affordable housing trust fund from 2019 through 2029. This is a repurposing of an existing sales tax, not a new one.

To put this sales tax into perspective, a family of four who spends $250 a week on groceries would contribute $6.50 a year of their food bill to affordable housing through this tax reallocation. It is unjust that our state taxes food, but in directing at least some of it toward another basic need, housing, we would help relieve a common household burden.

If the citizens of Lawrence will vote yes for affordable housing, we can make it possible for the people who work in Lawrence to also afford to live here. We would allow women who suffer domestic violence to have a safe place to go instead of back to their abuser (on average, seven times). We would help families living in crisis every day, wondering if they will be evicted, and the children who sleep in cars and tents and couch surf, to have a safe, affordable place to call home. We have met these people. Our hearts break that we comfortably debate the need and the process, while our friends, our neighbors and our citizens suffer. The most recent Housing and Urban Development numbers report that one in five households in Douglas County pay 50 percent or more of their income for housing. This means our neighbors must choose between housing and food and medicine.

The Journal-World published an irresponsible headline Sept. 18 that reads “City Has No Clear Affordable Housing Strategy,” which is inaccurate. The city has wisely followed the experience of some 550 other communities who have successfully established an affordable housing trust fund and set up an advisory board to responsibly oversee its use. Service providers who do affordable housing, along with other stakeholders and city and county officials guide the process. This makes the spending of the trust fund money public and transparent to the community. The Affordable Housing Advisory Board has emphasized permanently affordable housing for those earning less than 60 percent of the median income. This is how our severe housing shortage can be alleviated and not continue to grow even closer toward a crisis.

The public process the city has put into place will ensure the money is invested for the benefit of the people needing affordability, not the profitability of individual interests. This is a good strategy indeed.

Money put into the trust fund will be leveraged four to six times through grants and partnerships. This was done with the initial $100,000 the city allocated to the fund in 2015. Four-hundred thousand dollars of leveraging provided three permanent homes in partnership with Family Promise, Habitat for Humanity and Tenants to Homeowners. Three permanent homes for only $100,000 in a city where the average cost of a single house is almost twice that amount is a powerful start. A yes vote for Question 3 on Nov. 7 would raise more than $10 Million over 10 years.

A Journal-World editorial Sept. 19 erroneously concludes that the current strategy “is a recipe for certain failure.” While we are waiting on an update of information, no one seriously believes the problem that has gone unfunded for 25 years has miraculously solved itself. We must get honest about the scale of funding needed in order to show we are serious about a solution. The only certainty of failure here is not funding affordable housing.

Over the past 25 years this community has done two studies to better define the problem and outline solutions. Over the past 25 years, the problem has steadily grown. If we don’t vote yes in November, we could spend 25 more years debating the details – rent increases due to KU, lack of quality jobs, being land-locked between two rivers … While we keep talking, children, seniors and families keep suffering.

— Sara Taliaferro, Dennis Constance, Mary Newberg-Gale, Katie Sears, Steve Ozark – Justice Matters Affordable Housing Steering Committee