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Louisville Metro Council committee advances measure that would establish youth housing fund

A Louisville Metro Council committee advanced a proposal Wednesday that aims to mitigate human trafficking and simultaneously address youth homelessness. 

The ordinance would ban establishments like hotels and motels from renting out or offering deals on rooms for stays under 12 hours. 

District 21 Council Member Nicole George, a Democrat, is one of the measure’s sponsors. 

“The idea is that you have more illicit activities happening by the hour because it allows for quicker in and out rotation,” George said. 

Her comment came after a Louisville Metro Police Department presentation at the meeting that alluded to ultrashort stays being linked to crimes like trafficking.

Democratic Council Member Jessica Green of District 1 questioned those claims and asked to see data backing them up.

“I just expected that there's going to be some nexus or somebody's going to be able to tell me that, you know, 75% of cases in Jefferson County where a young person has been trafficked that there is a tie to an hourly rental and not just kind of a tangential kind of look into [it],” Green said. 

There are exemptions to the proposed rule, such as if the rental is backed by a housing voucher, or if it’s accommodating a travel layover or an out-of-town medical visit. 

Violations would carry civil penalties and a $500 dollar fine. The legislation also proposes using the money from fines to create and sustain a fund for housing youth ages 18-to-24 who are experiencing homelessness. 

Gretchen Hunt, executive administrator of the city’s Office for Women, said the change could make a difference for vulnerable young people. 

“We know that age group is very highly at risk. As one youth outreach worker told me, ‘If we can keep a kid off the streets, each minute they're off the street is a minute that they are not being exploited,’” Hunt said. 

Council Member Keisha Dorsey of District 3, a Democrat, raised questions over how the ordinance would be enforced, and whether the consequences would be enough of a deterrent. 

“Just making sure that when we put all those resources and time into it, that we don't end up in a cycle where it’s a downward spiral of we're putting a lot of resources, the fine is minimum and we keep seeing the cycle,” Dorsey said. 

Dorsey said she’d like to work with the proposal’s co-sponsors, George and Democrat Madonna Flood of District 24, to outline stronger penalties for a business repeatedly violating the ordinance — like a clause that would allow the city to shut that business down. 

Hunt with the Office for Women said there are state human trafficking laws that carry more severe criminal penalties and higher fines that are used to fund investigations. She added this ordinance would serve as a precursory measure. 

“I've been on the floor, on the ground really working on human trafficking criminal legislation that does actually criminalize and have higher fines for felony crimes,” Hunt said. “There are those criminal sanctions out there, but this is looking more upstream at trying to stop these open areas for where people may be exploited.”

The Council’s Committee on Community Affairs, Housing, Health and Education unanimously approved the measure. It could go before the full Metro Council as soon as next week. 

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.

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