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Louisville Panel Won't Consider Affordable Housing Changes Until Spring, Or Later

S. 43rd St. in West Louisville
J. Tyler Franklin
S. 43rd St. in West Louisville

A Louisville Metro Council committee is considering a multi-year effort aimed at reworking the city’s 800-page land development code, but one of the big issues before it — affordable housing — will not be examined until at least this spring.

The land development code governs development practices in Louisville, including new home construction, sidewalk placement, tree preservation and zoning policy.

On Monday, the five-person Ad Hoc Committee on the Land Development Code convened for the first time this year to examine the progress made and the work ahead for the coming months.

Affordable housing is one of the biggest tasks before the committee, but it wasn't brought up at the inaugural meeting of 2016.

Councilman James Peden, who chairs the committee, said fair and affordable housing issues won't be first on the group's agenda, but they'll likely come up for discussion in the spring.

"That is going to be an issue that takes a lot of time, brings a lot of council people, which then leads to a whole lot of discussion, which it should," said Peden, a Republican.

"I'm definitely not going to save it until last," he said, adding that he aims to address "smaller" issues in the land development code before tackling the topic of affordable housing.

Certain zoning restrictions in the current land development code ban multi-family unit construction in areas zoned specifically for single-family homes. It also requires some large lots of land to be designated solely for single-family homes.

But the restrictions can foster pockets of poverty and segregate the city by excluding some residents from living in certain areas, according to a 2015 reportfrom the Metropolitan Housing Coalition examining the impediments to fair housing in Louisville.

The committee will have the task of examining the feasibility of two initiatives aimed at getting developers to build more affordable housing throughout the city.

The initiatives stem from the work of a 44-member subcommittee on fair and affordable housing that analyzed the land development code to find ways of increasing the stock of housing options.

In 2014, the group presented nearly a dozen recommendationsto the council committee. Three of those recommendations are considered "major initiatives" that provide incentives to developers who choose to build affordable housing.

One of those initiatives — which gained full council approvallast year — provides incentives to developers who construct affordable multi-family housing units. The incentives allow increased density limits for developers who ensure at least 10 percent of their new developments are affordable to people earning less than 60 percent of the median income of the metro area.

Two other major initiatives have yet to be considered by the council committee. One would provide incentives to developers looking to construct affordable single-family homes.

Incentives would go to developers who build more costly homes in areas with lower home values and to those who build less-costly homes in areas with higher home values, according to a report from the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. The incentives would give developers increased density thresholds, enabling them to build more units.

Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said it's important that the council is diligent as it considers the proposals for affordable housing.

"In light of the Supreme Court caseon disparate impact, delays in our practical, not just theoretical, commitment to fair housing opportunities are unwise," she said.

Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat and vice-chair of the committee, said he believes the committee move quickly on the fair and affordable housing once discussions begin. He said he is confident the initiatives will be approved this year.

"I do believe we will be able to pass them," he said

But Peden said the council must carefully examine the ramifications the initiatives will have on future affordable housing developments before moving to a vote.

Peden said he opposes the idea of affordable housing rules being applied "carte blanche" to the entire city. He said that could lead to units being placed in areas far away from jobs, social services and amenities.

Peden said the city's inventory of affordable housing is "no doubt" low, and he supports instituting policy that requires any new development to include a certain percentage of affordable housing.

"I feel it's the fairest application," he said.

But he said the political will is not strong enough to pass such policy.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.