Event planners hope event sparks dialogue about affordable housing

Emily Farley Residental Housing Services

Solutions to community problems have to start somewhere.

Agencies that are participating in an upcoming housing event hope that starts with a conversation.

The event — Housing in Lawrence and Douglas County: A Public/Private Partnership — will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania.

Mathew Faulk, housing program manager for the Bert Nash Center, said the goal of the event is to develop relationships with property managers and owners while providing information about services and supports for landlords and tenants in the community and to discuss affordable housing options.

Other participating agencies are Catholic Charities, Family Promise of Lawrence, and Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.

“These are partners we work with on a regular basis,” Faulk said.

The purpose behind the housing event is to initiate a dialogue with landlords and property owners in the community and to also receive feedback from them.

“We want to engage people in a conversation and provide information about what services are available to both landlords and tenants and to talk to landlords about Section 8 housing and subsidized programs,” Faulk said.

Shannon Oury, executive director, Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, said, “There are many myths about accepting Section 8 vouchers, and this event will provide an opportunity to ask questions and understand the program and the potential benefits for private landlords.”

Section 8 is the common name for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing. The program allows private landlords to rent apartments and homes at fair-market rates to qualified low-income tenants, who receive an income-based rental subsidy. The subsidy amount is based on household income.

“We want to talk about the affordable housing issue and initiate a conversation about what that means,” Faulk said. “Whether something is affordable is not a set rental rate; affordability is dependent upon household income. Studies show that when a household is paying over 30 percent of its income on housing the risk of housing loss and susceptibility to negative effects from other burdens drastically increases.”

Preliminary findings from a city housing market survey done earlier this year revealed there are 5,200 households in the community that are not living in an affordable condition, Faulk said, meaning they are spending more than 30 percent of the household income on housing, which includes utilities. The complete draft of the study is due out in September.

“They call it housing cost burdened; it’s the opposite of affordable housing. Those numbers do not only include low-income households, but also middle-class households,” Faulk said. “Locally, we have therefore been going backward so far as affordable housing is concerned. If rent prices continue to go up and the median income doesn’t, or at least not at the same rate, displacement will continue to be a problem and at an increasing rate.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t any simple solutions,” Faulk said. “But we are trying to address the issue, in this instance by asking people in the private sector to begin thinking about it. It’s really about community, and whether we accept it or not we are all involved. If we love our community, it is a problem we should want to solve. Otherwise, we are ignoring a problem involving one of the most fundamental aspects of human life; whether or not people can access a safe place to live.”