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Louisville Residents Weigh In On Housing Discrimination, Desires

Affordable housing got a boost in this year's city spending plan.

A new report sheds light on how housing discrimination endures in Louisville, and how residents would like the issue to be addressed.

The federally funded report was released Friday by the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission. It looks at focus groups with more than 60 Louisville residents from protected classes as outlined by the federal 1968 Fair Housing Act and local anti-discrimination laws.

Participants were asked to discuss what they like and dislike about their neighborhood, what they would change, and where they would live if affordable housing was available across the city.

The goal was to determine where the city stands in providing access to fair, equitable housing. Those who took part came from neighborhoods across the city, from Shawnee to St. Matthews, Old Louisville to Okolona.

Although the focus groups represent just a slice of the city's population, they can effectively act as a "miner's canary," said Cate Fosl, a co-author of the report and director of the University of Louisville's Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research.

"We can see more than just the individual stories," she said. "They can point us in the direction of systematic problems."

Discrimination Endures

The Lexington Fair Housing Council is charged with investigating allegations of housing discrimination across Kentucky, including in Louisville. From 2010 to 2015, the council received 93 notifications of housing discrimination in the city, according to the 2015 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice in Louisville.

More than half of those claims came from people who said they were discriminated against due to a disability, the analysis shows. Fosl said focus group discussions reflected the trend that people with disabilities are being discriminated against at a higher rate than other residents.

"I just fee like my disability has me not only at a physical disadvantage, but that I'm not important," the report quoted one focus group member as saying.

From July 2011 to February 2015, the Louisville Metro Human Rights Commission received 177 housing discrimination complaints, according to the analysis. Nearly 30 percent of those claims stem from "family status" discrimination, the analysis shows. And several focus group participants said they often struggle to find affordable housing units that can accommodate children.

Though the data show the number of racial discrimination claims declining, 19 percent of the claims received by the commission are based on race.

And African-American focus group participants from Louisville's westernmost neighborhoods said they had experienced racial discrimination when trying to get housing services or mortgages.

Is Affordability Equitable?

Some participants of the focus groups said affordable housing units can lack in quality.

"I think there's a lot of places here that are affordable but not necessarily livable," said one participant.

Others pointed out that what is affordable for some may not be for others.

"You can't afford to stay where you are sinking financially," said another.

Quality, affordable housing should be available in every part of the city, said Carolyn Miller-Cooper, executive director of the Louisville Metro Human Rights Commission.

The report says some residents feel herded into certain sections of the city because they lack the income to afford housing elsewhere. The Metropolitan Housing Coalition's 2015 State of Housing report also shows that a bulk of the city's subsidized housing is clustered.

That can force some families to make a choice between living in neighborhoods that have higher crime rates or paying a higher rent to get to a more desirable area.

Gabe Fritz, the city's director of housing and community development, said Metro government is "committed to providing housing opportunities of choice throughout our community."

He pointed to the Louisville CARES initiative — a $12 million city government fund to help spur development of affordable housing units — as a burgeoning effort that will bring more housing options to families that spend more than a third of their income on rent.

There Is No 'Most Desirable' Place To Live

Safety, infrastructure, amenities and proximity to work or school are factors in making an area desirable, according to the report.

Some areas offer these things. Others don't.

But some residents would rather see them added to their neighborhood than moving to get them, the report shows. A West Louisville resident was quoted in the report saying, "If Broadway was like Bardstown Road, [the West End] would be a great place."

According to Fosl, many participants said they simply want to see more equity across neighborhoods in terms "of the good things."

"Greater economic development in some of the historically more distressed areas of Louisville would help bring some of those amenities and some of those jobs," she said.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.