Special Report: Affordable housing crisis

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Affordable housing has become an issue plaguing America.

Harvard University’s 2019 State of the Nation’s Housing Report shows that housing production continues to fall short of what’s needed, which in turn has made finding affordable housing that much harder, including here in South central Kentucky.

“There’s just not enough to go around for the amount of people who need that type of assistance,” said Rebecca Troxell, Coordinated Entry lead for the Barren River Area Safe Space. “People who cannot afford $700 a month rent plus utilities.”

One organization that’s very familiar with this growing issue is the Housing Authority of Bowling Green.

The Housing Authority offers 600 units of public housing. There’s just one problem – those units are rarely, if ever, available.

“We have a waiting list of about 260 individuals waiting to get in,” said Katie Miller, special project director for the Housing Authority. “That waiting list can range from three months to years depending upon the bedroom size.”

Some people don’t have the time or the patience to wait, so they try their hand at the open market.

Again, more issues arise.

There just aren’t that many houses available to purchase or rent for a reasonably affordable price.

“We have about ten individuals who are looking for a house under $125,000 because that’s just what they can afford, and they’re almost impossible to find on the market,” added Miller.

While it’s not impossible, it’s certainly very challenging.

According to Zillow.com, There are currently 1,166 homes for sale in Barren County, Butler County, Edmonson County, Hart County, Metcalfe County and Warren County.

Of those houses, only 115 of them are available for under $100,000.

If you do the math, that equates to less than 10% of houses in South central Kentucky, and the homes that are available aren’t in the best shape.

“We have a lot of housing,” said Troxell. “There’s apartments going up every day, but they’re not affordable to lower income people.”

The affordable housing crisis is taking its toll on a wide range of demographics as well – regardless of one’s age, race or gender, and not just individuals with a low income.

“A lot of us are one pay check away from losing our job that we couldn’t afford to pay our rent or make our house payment,” Miller said. “It’s not just something that affects low income individuals that you think. It can affect anyone.”

Large immigrant and refugee families deal with the same problem, primarily because it’s difficult to find housing that fits all their family members at an affordable price.

“Once you’re starting to secure a housing unit that is multiple bedrooms, that’s when the rental price escalates a lot more,” said Leyda Becker, international communities liaison for the city of Bowling Green.

These issues have led to more programs being created in recent years to create solutions to this ongoing problem.

One of those programs is Any Door KY and its Coordinated Entry system.

Coordinated Entry is carried out by several local organizations including B.R.A.S.S., Inc., Community Outreach, Jesus Community Center, LifeSkills, Inc., HOTEL, Inc., Salvation Army and Veterans Administration.

The system connects people dealing with homelessness to housing resources that enable them to put a roof over their heads, but in a way that wouldn’t be as financially burdensome if they attempted to search for affordable housing on their own.

“In the last year, we have assisted 94 individuals and families as a group, so that’s pretty good,” added Troxell. “But there’s still a long ways to go.”

Housing isn’t a right, but perhaps it should be.

At least, Miller and Troxell certainly think so.

“Everyone deserves the right to have safe, sanitary and decent housing no matter what there situation or their circumstance,” said Miller.

“We want everybody to have a safe place to go,” echoed Troxell. “Winter’s coming. We don’t want anyone living somewhere that’s going to be heat-deprived. It’s really just about more involvement and people understanding that that’s a real problem. It’s not just in larger cities. It’s a big problem here in Bowling Green and it’s a big problem in the surrounding rural areas as well.”