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Louisville mayoral candidates talk home

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Jon Cherry
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City Hall as seen from Jefferson Square Park.

Louisville’s 2022 mayoral election is one of the most contested races in a decade, mainly because there’s no incumbent. Mayor Greg Fischer is term-limited, and it’ll be the first time in 12 years his name won’t appear on the ballot.

In the May primary, Democrat Craig Greenberg and Republican Bill Dieruf came out on top. Greenberg, 48, is a local businessman, attorney and developer. He’s the co-owner of Ohio Valley Wrestling and the former CEO of 21c Museum Hotels. A Louisville native, he has called himself “a proud product of the Jefferson County public school system.”

He left the city in the 1990s to attend the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School but returned in 1998 to work for the law firm Frost Brown Todd as a corporate attorney. During his campaign for mayor, Greenberg has said Louisville officials have been “complacent” for far too long, and he has promised to focus on attracting businesses to the city and ensuring residents feel safe.

Bill Dieruf is currently Jeffersontown’s mayor, a nonpartisan elected office he has held for more than a decade. The 66-year-old earned an accounting degree from the University of Kentucky, which he used to help grow his family’s hardware store. From 2018 to 2020, Dieruf was the president of the Kentucky League of Cities, the organization representing local governments across the state. Throughout the Louisville mayoral race, Dieruf has leaned on his advocacy for removing party affiliation in local elections and says he wants to be “a mayor for everyone.”

In addition to the major-party candidates, David Ellenberger, who’s also running for mayor, responded to an interview request for this issue. The 59-year-old, an Iowa native, moved to Louisville more than 30 years ago, and he worked on a few local campaigns in the 1980s and became a district chair for the Kentucky Young Democrats. Ellenberger now lives in the Highlands and works in property maintenance.

On Election Day, Louisvillians can cast their vote for five other independent candidates: Manetta Lemkheitir, Robert Eberenz, Martina Kunnecke, John Mace and Taylor Everett, plus Economic Freedom Party candidate Marion Thacker IV. Some candidates did not respond to requests for an interview, while others filed to run after our deadline.

I sat down with Dieruf, Greenberg and Ellenberger on separate occasions to discuss gentrification, Louisville’s pressing need for affordable housing, the meaning of home, and more. Here’s how they answered the same questions, with responses edited for length and clarity.

Bill Dieruf

Question: “The theme of this issue is: Home. We’re asking Louisville residents what home means to them, and I wanted to put the same question to you: What does home mean to you?”

Dieruf: “Home is family, your kids, your grandkids and where everybody meets to have that warm feeling. It’s the hallmark feeling of, ‘This is my home, and I’m proud to have it where I am.’ “The future of Louisville needs to be where the people call Louisville home. I’m talking about the community as a whole. We have done it in J-Town. We are proud of our home. And a home can mean two things: One is the house that you live in, that you are able to raise your family in. Every person should have the ability to have that. The other is the community at large. It should be the place you’re proud to be a part of, and the community at large should be supportive, just like your close- knit family.”

Q: “And how has your relationship to home, or to Louisville, changed since 2020?”

Dieruf: “Whether it’s the (racial-justice) protests or the pandemic, it has amplified what home is and what many people think of as home. On the one hand, it’s a place where a person can rest their head, and we found out that some people aren’t allowed to do that — because they’re homeless, because our homelessness is something that we haven’t solved. We’ve moved people around, but we haven’t solved it. We need to do that.”

Q: “That sounds sort of broad, but I guess it’s also personal, too, since you’ve been the mayor of Jeffersontown during these past several years:”

Dieruf: “Well, I’m thinking about what it was like here locally, which is absolutely because I’m running for mayor of Louisville. But you also have to think of what I was doing during the pandemic. I was the president of the Kentucky League of Cities. During this pandemic we’ve had a tornado (in Western Kentucky) that was horrendous. People’s homes were totally destroyed. We learned that getting those people a home is much different than getting them housed. There is a totally different feeling of coming home to a place that you call your own and coming home to a place you just happen to rest your head.”

Q: “Where in Louisville besides your physical home, besides Jeffersontown City Hall, do you feel most at home?”

Dieruf: “Our parks. I’m usually there because our grandkids are playing a sport or we’re there for the Veterans Memorial in J-Town. So it’s the kind of place where you feel warm. You’re around people cheering, and they’re saying, ‘My grandkid’s doing great’ or ‘My kid’s doing great.’ You get the camaraderie where everybody is there for a purpose and having a good time.”

Q: “Interestingly enough, both you and Mr. Greenberg seem to really enjoy Louisville’s parks.”

Dieruf: “We’ve never used our parks to let people know that Louisville is a place they should move to, but they have a tremendous worth. And some of us, we have parks in our community that are very well-manicured, and there’s others that have been let go over the years. We have to change it.”

Q: “In recent years, we’ve seen development and redevelopment projects in some of Louisville’s most affordable neighborhoods for working residents. Particularly in low-income neighborhoods, their community, their neighbors, their friends are their ‘home.’ What role do you think the mayor and the city should play in addressing gentrification and ensuring people aren’t displaced?”

Dieruf: “Well, it’s not just one item that helps to eliminate that. First, the people in the neighborhoods should be able to own property in the neighborhoods so that they’re not priced out by rent, and that way they get generational wealth. It’s not only the first house, though. You need to plan on that same person being able to move to the second or third house. For many people, Louisville is a hometown to them, and their neighborhood
is a hometown. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they should move, but if they really love where they’re at, why not give them options? You have to do that through some kind of incentive program to where the person can both afford it now and can afford it in the future.

We have to also look at where they put the housing to make sure that, if it’s somewhat affordable, that there’s amenities there for the people that you’re putting there. You know, to put something out on Billtown Road where there’s no amenities, there’s no government amenities, there’s no bus line, there’s no grocery stores or hardware stores or anything — that, to me, is not going to help that person.”

Q: “About 110,000 homes in Jefferson County were re-assessed this year, and property values increased by more than 26% on average. That will have a knock-on effect on property taxes. How can the city ensure residents are not priced out of their homes?”

Dieruf: “Are you saying like taxed out of their homes?”

Q: “Yes.”

Dieruf: “It’s something we have already been doing for some groups in this community. We have the Homestead Exemption where, when you get to a certain age, your properties are taxed at a third of the price. There was a conversation recently in Frankfort for veterans to get a discount, too. So it’s not something that would be unusual for me to go to Frankfort to say, ‘In order to make sure that people can get generational wealth and move on, we need to have some kind of incentive like the Homestead Act for more people.’ These are these people’s homes. We have to figure out how to move forward to make sure that we protect the person, without hurting the community at large.”

Q: “Some Louisville residents don’t have the security of having a house or a home. How do you plan to address homelessness in our community?”

Dieruf: “I go back to what I’m already doing. I can take the same thing we’re doing here in Jeffersontown and move it to any place in Kentucky or any place in Jefferson County. We quit moving the homeless from one place to another, because they’ve been doing that for years and saying it’s working. It’s not working. You’re not helping the person. You’re helping the problem in an area, but you’re not helping the person.

Here, we divide up services into a minimum of five different silos, each to help the person that’s on the street. For the wife who’s a victim of domestic abuse that just grabbed the kids, jumped in a car and is now on the street, we have a victim’s advocate. Louisville should have someone to help that person understand the court system and also get them help to move to the next level. We have the Area Ministries that help the people who are homeless because they lost their job. The city gets involved with the Area Ministries to help them financially, with food, with everything, so they can help people make rent, find a job and help them to get off the streets. For those that are addicted on the streets, we have the Angel Program. It’s not something that’s J-Town-centric; it’s been done across the state. Kentucky State Police have it at all of their posts. Anyone with addiction issues can walk into a police station and get connected with treatment.

We also have the American Rescue Plan funding, and my thought is we should take $100 million of that money and make it count, rather than just do some window dressing. It should go to changing the situation that we have for affordable housing.”

Q: “In 2019, Louisville Metro Government conducted an assessment that showed an unmet need of more than 31,000 housing units for the city’s poorest residents. What should city government do to ensure those needs are met?”

Dieruf: “The first thing we need to do is give them housing where they can afford to lay their head. The second thing is, we have to make sure to find ways to get them to where they can afford housing. We need to attract the kind of jobs here through economic development to where the people that don’t have the means now, they will have the means in the future so they don’t need the government assistance. So many times, we want to keep the people on government assistance. We need to help lead them to where they’re out of the situation. We’ve got to stop just trying to put Band-Aids on things and look at the whole chess game, not just the first move.”

Q: “Both you and your opponent, Democrat Craig Greenberg, have promised to get more affordable housing built under your administration. But what do you mean when you talk about housing that is affordable? I feel like a lot of residents see housing being built with incentives, but when they look at the rent prices they say, ‘Well, that’s not really affordable to me.’”

Dieruf: “Affordable is: You take the income that the person is making and bring their rent or mortgage payments to an acceptable level where they can live and have the wraparound services they need to form a home. As I mentioned, we have to look at how we get people to the next level, where they have the income that they need to move on and not have the essentials provided for them. We have to be able to quit having the government spending all the money on how we’re going to solve the affordable-housing crisis and get the money directly to the person that needs the help.

Sometimes, that’s a matter of going into the community and letting the local builders or the local people fix up their house, rather than have somebody nationally come out. Let’s keep the money here. I talked to one young lady in a rundown house and she said, ‘How can I make this house a place I want to live in, want to call my home, when I can’t get the housing assistance that I need?’ We need to make sure that person has the ability to fix up their own home or use a local company. We need to quit looking at giving incentives to a company that’s coming into town, using the incentives for a few years, and then, once the incentives are gone, residents are left there holding the bag when the prices have gone back up. That’s not the right way to help people.”

Q: “I want to drill down for a second into some practical steps on affordable housing. So, you’ve talked about incentivizing the building of affordable housing, but what does that actually look like and how would it help increase the stock of affordable housing here in Louisville?”

Dieruf: “Well, first thing is, we need to cut down on all of the red tape and barriers. That woman I was talking about who was living in a rundown house, she called five different departments in Louisville Metro, and nobody could help her. We need to have a one-stop shop where, kind of like 311, you can call this number and get help with your housing needs whether it’s rental, homeownership, utilities. We can do it with a coalition of partners who know which person to send you to. And then, within the coalition, we make the coalition efficient, not deficient, to where they don’t put you off forever. We have to do housing resources the same way — as if you went to my hardware store and you had a problem. We solve it today; we don’t solve it three months from now. So, we make the government to where, we’re helping you get what you deserve because you’re part of our community, rather than put you off to another time.

We also need to look at the local groups that are already successful at affordable housing. These are the groups that are able to either build houses or refurbish houses for the people in an area.

We can take an area of town and make it to where it looks like a fantastic place where you’d want to live, no matter what your income is. We do a whole area, not just one house. Everybody that’s doing that work already, let’s help them move forward.”

Q: “Louisville is a city of neighborhoods, and for many people their neighborhoods are their home in a larger sense. If elected, how would you improve the quality of residents’ neighborhoods, whether that’s safety, walkability, resources...?

Dieruf: “Public safety is the big one. No matter what part of this county you’re in, everybody wants to feel safe. Everybody wants to be able to walk out of their house and talk to their neighbor and not worry about what’s going on or whether they’re gonna be carjacked at the grocery or while simply going downtown. We’ve created a police department (in Jeffersontown) that’s second to none, that is family-, community-orientated.

We get to know our neighbors; they get out of the cars and ride bikes in their neighborhood and get to know people around town. We need to do the same thing throughout Louisville Metro as far as safety.

For the next mayor of Louisville, the key thing is to bring the pride back to the community. The first thing we need to do is cut the grass, pick up the trash — in all communities across this county, whether it’s Pleasure Ridge Park or the Russell neighborhood or out in the Highlands. And not just the week we have the Derby. We have to have Derby Week 52 weeks out of the year. In J-Town, you come around and you can see the pride that people who work for the city have. They are proud of their city and the residents here are proud of their city.”

Q: “The geographic boundaries of Louisville expanded greatly with the 2003 city-county merger. But many people living outside of the urban core say they feel disconnected from the city and their local government. What can be done to improve that?”

Dieruf: “The advantage I have is that I have unified groups. I have unified cities across the state, whether it’s during a pandemic or it’s during a tornado. I understand how people want to be an individual — as a city, as a community, as a neighborhood — but yet they also want to be a part of the whole. As I look to be the next mayor of Louisville, not only do we want to make Jefferson County a whole, but we want to make Jefferson County a part of the state that everybody says, ‘We are doing this together.’

Here in Jefferson County, we’ve merged the city’s and county’s police department, we’ve merged public works, we’ve merged all of the city services. But the one thing we have not merged is the community. We keep dividing the community because of something, and we need to get over that. If this city is going to grow, and we’re going to become the leaders that others want to follow, we have to have a community that everybody wants to say, ‘This is Louisville, and this is my community.’

As we look to the future, we will merge the people around here because Louisville will be where everybody is getting the services they need, and people will get to know people in other communities. Whether it’s the Hispanic community, the Cuban community, the Black community — everybody wants to sit down at a table and get to know everybody.”

Craig Greenberg

Q: “What does home mean to you?”

Greenberg: “Family. Foundation. Safety. Neighbors. Home is a place where we spend most of our time with our family. It’s a place where we want to feel safe. It’s the foundation for the rest of our lives — whether we’re working, whether we’re in school, whether we’re retired. Home is the foundation for our entire lives. I also just think of neighbors and neighborhoods, and the importance of that to each one of us.”

Q: “How has your relationship to home, or to Louisville, changed since 2020?”

Greenberg: “For me, and probably for many people across our city, my relationship with my home and my family has been strengthened over these past two years. I’ve spent more time at home these past two and a half years than I ever have before, just based on the nature of working from home, not traveling as much, not having as many activities outside the home.

While the pandemic is so unfortunate and has taken so many lives throughout our entire country and world, I feel like it also brought many people together, whether we initially stayed in touch via Zoom or whether we reconnected with our neighbors because our only activity was taking walks. The unique silver lining of the pandemic, I believe, has been bringing people closer together and realizing the importance of relationships.

I feel a closer connection with my home, with my neighborhood, and with so many friends and new friends that I’ve met on the campaign trail over the past year. The campaign, too, has really also strengthened my relationship with my home city of Louisville. I’ve met so many wonderful new people across the city and I’ve learned so much from those people, about every corner of our city and people’s experiences that were different from mine. The last year has been the most amazing year of my life, the most educational year of my life.”

Q: “Besides your physical home, where in Louisville do you feel most at home?”

Greenberg: “As someone who loves to run, who loves to take walks with my family, I feel like our parks are one of the amazing attributes of this city. They’re places to promote good health. They’re free, so people of any income level, regardless of where they live, or who they are, what they do, can gather together for healthy activities, for social activities and for cultural activities. Our park system is one place that I think myself and many others feel at home, and it’s one of the reasons why I think we as a city need to invest more in our parks.

You know, some of the parks that are not part of the city park system, like the Parklands (of Floyds Fork) and Waterfront Park, those to me are what all of our city parks should aspire
to be in terms of the quality of maintenance. And that requires further investment from our city, from our community, from the neighborhoods in which they reside. That’s an area where I’d like to see the city focus more.”

Q: “In recent years, we’ve seen development and redevelopment projects in some of Louisville’s most affordable neighborhoods for working residents. Particularly in low-income neighborhoods, their community, their neighbors, their friends are their ‘home.’ What role do you think the mayor and the city should play in addressing gentrification and ensuring people aren’t displaced?”

Greenberg: “I think it’s very important that city leaders, city government, listen to neighbors when it comes to local development, particularly in lower-income communities, to prevent gentrification, to prevent displacement. A lot of lower- income neighborhoods need city investment. It’s past time. They’ve been overlooked for years, for my entire lifetime. But that investment needs to be done in ways that support those who live there and address their needs. I think that should be the primary focus.

I definitely think it’s important to listen to neighbors as planning, zoning and development decisions are being made. There are several neighborhoods in this city right now that are really suffering from out-of-state landlords providing unsafe and unaffordable units to people. We as a city need to crack down on that. That is not right. We need to ensure that when a housing unit is being rented or sold, they’re safe, they’re well-kept, they meet code. Unfortunately, some of the city’s own housing inventory has not met those standards, and that’s totally unacceptable.”

Q: “About 110,000 homes in Jefferson County were re- assessed this year, and property values increased by more than 26% on average. That will have a knock-on effect
on property taxes. How can the city ensure residents are not priced out of their homes?”
Greenberg: “One of the things the city should do a better job of is predictability. One of the many reasons why this has an unfortunate impact on folks is because it’s surprising — maybe their house hasn’t been reassessed in years, then there’s this giant increase. I would propose a more predictable and regular schedule, so that people have forewarning of when property tax increases are coming or should be expected.”

Q: “Some Louisville residents don’t have the security of having a house or a home. How do you plan to address homelessness in our community?”

Greenberg: “To me, the best solution to prevent people from becoming homeless is to have more affordable housing. On the day that I first announced I was running for mayor, I pledged to have 15,000 new or renovated affordable housing units underway during my first term. I think that’s possible, and I think it’s critically important that we do that. When I talk about affordable housing units, I’m talking about units for rental, but also affordable for-sale homes, which is an area that I think we need to focus on more as a city. That’s really a key part of making neighborhoods safer, making neighborhoods greener, making neighborhoods more vibrant. To me, that’s one of the key long-term solutions.

In the short term, for those who are homeless, I want to focus on a plan that provides more resources to the organizations providing mental-health treatment to the homeless, community addiction treatment, job training and programs to reconnect with the family. And I want to combine those services in permanent, supportive housing developments, where there can be buildings in a few places across the city, not all in one area, where people have a place to temporarily live to get the services and have a better path than they currently have. Those are some of the key solutions for our homeless challenges in this city, which are, candidly, worse now than they were several years ago and don’t appear to be slowing down.”

Q: “In 2019, Louisville Metro Government conducted an assessment that showed an unmet need of more than 31,000 housing units for the city’s poorest residents. What should city government do to ensure those needs are met?”

Greenberg: “Right now, we have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address this challenge that you’re talking about. Funding from the American Rescue Plan is a big part of the solution. In my mind, what we as a community should be doing is working to leverage those federal funds with other sources of public and private capital. So that when $1 of ARP funds is invested in a new affordable housing project, there’s really $8, $9, $10 being invested because of other federal tax- credit programs, other sources of traditional borrowing to make these projects a reality. So, my challenge to the city now, before I’m hopefully mayor, is to leverage these funds with other sources of capital, so that we can build not hundreds of new affordable housing units for those most in need but thousands of housing units.

Another thing is that there’s a really unique new program that a local affordable-housing company has just recently rolled out where they are pairing early-childhood services and health-care services with affordable-housing developments.

And so people who live in these affordable housing units have neighborhood-level access to pre-K, to child care, to a health- care facility. We need affordable housing across this entire city. We should not be just putting affordable housing in any one or just a couple of neighborhoods in Louisville. Affordable housing should be everywhere so that people are near improved public transportation routes, where they’re near large employers in good-paying career-path jobs, where they’re near schools, where they’re near retail and grocery stores. I’m a strong supporter of affordable housing being across this entire city.”

Q: “Both you and your opponent, Republican Bill Dieruf, have promised to get more affordable housing built under your administration. But what do you mean when you talk about housing that is affordable? I feel like a lot of residents see housing being built with incentives, but when they look at the rent prices they say, ‘Well, that’s not really affordable to me.’”

Greenberg: “To me, affordable housing is safe, quality housing that just happens to be subsidized by some source of funding, whether that’s a federal program, city grant dollars or some other program. Otherwise, there is nothing different. It’s just allowing people who make less than the area median income of the city, giving them the same opportunities to afford a safe, quality home for them and their family. The quality of the apartment, the quality of the house, should be no different than where you or I live. I think there’s a huge misperception in our city — really, in our country — about what affordable housing means.

And I think whether you’re building affordable housing for folks earning less than 30% of area median income or less than 80&, you need to have different strategies for each one. But I’m talking about all of that when I say affordable housing. We need a mix.”

Q: “What are some practical steps you’d take to get more affordable housing off the ground?”

Greenberg: “I’m so optimistic about our ability to address this challenge in my first term as mayor because I want the city to get out of the real-estate-holding business. Right now, the city owns so many vacant lots, so many buildings that aren’t being used to their highest potential. I truly believe this is part of the solution, that the city can work with nonprofit organizations and other groups around the city to use these real-estate assets. One of the things I’m most excited about is really repurposing the city buildings into housing and into more commercial activity to add more life, vibrancy and excitement into neighborhoods across Louisville.

Rehabilitating vacant homes or building affordable for-sale homes on currently vacant lots is also part of the public-safety solution. Having more people living on a block, eliminating vacant lots where people are living, where people are taking care of their property, where people are creating generational wealth, where people are having more activity on the streets and talking to the neighbors, that creates safe neighborhoods.

I also think one other concrete step we can take when it comes to affordable homeownership is working with our local financial institutions and other philanthropic institutions on down-payment assistance. Right now, in the environment that we’re in, it’s often that a mortgage payment might be less than a rental payment, but the barrier to homeownership for many is the down payment to buy a home. So, working with some of our local financial institutions and philanthropic institutions, I want to have a more robust down-payment program for first-time homebuyers, so even more people have the opportunity to buy a home in Louisville.”

Q: “Louisville is a city of neighborhoods, and for many people, their neighborhoods are their home in a larger sense. If elected, how would you improve the quality of residents’ neighborhoods, whether that’s safety, walkability, resources...?

Greenberg: “My goal is for every neighborhood to be a safe, green, clean, walkable neighborhood, a neighborhood where you cannot just see your neighbors, but you can have outdoor activity and many places to walk or bike to. We need to improve the infrastructure in many neighborhoods in Louisville. We need to improve the infrastructure in west Louisville, areas that have been overlooked for your and my entire lifetime. And, in different ways, we need to improve the infrastructure in some of the outer parts of the county, in the southern parts of the county where there are new neighborhoods that are being developed along narrow, windy, hilly roads that have no pedestrian infrastructure. That needs to be improved.

The other thing we need to do in Louisville is a better job of the basic government services. We need to make sure that the streets are clean, that the sidewalks are clean, that graffiti is removed, that abandoned cars don’t linger on the road for weeks and months at a time, that streetlights are working, that alleys are clean. These are all critical things that are the foundation of safe and healthy neighborhoods, and we need to do a better job of it here. If we can’t do the little things right, how can residents expect us to do these big things that we’re talking about? I’m going to be very focused on having an administration and having folks in my administration who are doing these little things right that are really important things.”

Q: “The geographic boundaries of Louisville expanded greatly with the 2003 city-county merger. But many people living outside of the urban core say they feel disconnected from the city and their local government. What can be done to improve that?”

Greenberg: “First, I say to all of my friends living outside the Watterson: I hear you. I understand, and I hear you loud and clear. It is critical that the mayor of Louisville be the mayor for all of Louisville, regardless of where you live, from Pleasure Ridge Park to Park DuValle and Portland, from Anchorage to Algonquin, and every neighborhood in between. The mayor of Louisville and the city government must serve every resident of Louisville, and I understand the criticism.

I was just talking about some of the infrastructure needs out in the more suburban areas of the community. I visited with those neighbors, taking tours of Metro Council districts with the Metro Council members that represent those areas. I hear it, and I see
it. I am committed to making sure that government services and government investments reach every corner of the city.

I did my ‘Run With Craig’ initiative early on, where I ran through all of Louisville’s 623 precincts. Really, the most dangerous experience I had during that entire initiative was running in the southeastern part of the city over the winter. It was after a snowstorm, and I was running in the road. There were no sidewalks. The streets had recently been plowed, and you know how right after you plow the streets they sort of get more narrow as snow builds up on the side?

Q: “Yeah, like it builds up on the shoulder?”

Greenberg: “There’s really no shoulder on these roads. I was running on the side of the street and there were trucks and cars just zooming by that wouldn’t slow down. Those are the most dangerous experiences that I had during that entire initiative, in every corner of this city. That is one of the ways I think we need to invest in infrastructure, but there are a lot of others.

“It’s important to have those conversations with the members of Metro Council that represent the suburban areas of our city, as well as the neighbors themselves. Let me give you another example: Floyds Fork in the southeastern part of our city, where we started this conversation. That’s a very unique area of our city. As you listen to neighbors and their desire to really protect the beauty, to protect the waterways of Floyds Fork and the watersheds in that area, we need to have a proactive approach to how that area grows, while at the same time protecting that unique, one-of-a-kind beauty and that natural resource that we have within our city. I think listening to neighbors in that part of the city is another area where I’m really interested in getting involved.”

David Ellenberger

Q: “What does home mean to you?”

Ellenberger: “Well, home is where you feel most comfortable, where a group of friends or family can come together and feel safe and protected.”

Q: “And how has your relationship to home, or to Louisville, changed since 2020 amid the pandemic and racial-justice movement?”

Ellenberger: “Going through all that made me realize, ‘God, somebody really does have to do something.’ We need somebody who cares as mayor — somebody who can instill that in others.

I live really close to Bardstown Road. In fact, I go out my back door and can see Bardstown Road. I see homeless people more and more coming out in the past couple of years. It’s unbelievable how it just crept up like this. One of my main goals is to get the people voting on all the issues. I want to implement a campaign here in Louisville for that very thing: voting online for not only elections but for basically all issues that would come before government. The voting would be verified by biometrics and use the blockchain to record votes. I think that might help more people get involved in the government and getting things done.”

Q: “Besides your physical home, where in Louisville do you feel most at home?”

Ellenberger: “I like the Highlands. I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I worked as a DJ in nightclubs for 23 years of my life. I like being around people. I like being in the background, so to speak, but I came to see that we really do need some leaders who can lead.”

Q: “In recent years, we’ve seen development and redevelopment projects in some of Louisville’s most affordable neighborhoods for working residents. Particularly in low-income neighborhoods, their community, their neighbors, their friends are their ‘home.’ What role do you think the mayor and the city should play in addressing gentrification and ensuring people aren’t displaced?”

Ellenberger: “That’s a tough one to answer because money seems to talk a lot in today’s society, and that’s unfortunate. The only thing that somebody like me can do is just try to get people to actually care. I mean, protests are one way of trying to get bills and laws passed and just getting the people more involved. I think they might know a little more than some politicians that don’t live in their neighborhood, but it’s a tough question. It really is.”

Q: “About 110,000 homes in Jefferson County were re-assessed this year, and property values increased by more than 26% on average. That will have a knock-on effect on property taxes. How can the city ensure residents are not priced out of their homes?”

Ellenberger: “Well, inflated home values are potentially good for the owner. Of course, we can lower their taxes to keep the assessment the same or do some sort of tax freeze, you know, just allowing them to not pay the tax for a year or two. Other than that, I think values going up is good, but the taxes are not necessarily good.”

Q: “Some Louisville residents don’t have the security of having a house or a home. How do you plan to address homelessness in our community?”

Ellenberger: “There’s lots of ways to address that. The first thing to do would be to get maybe a citizens’ focus group together, find out how many homeless shelters we have exactly. Once we find that out, we can try to build more of those up. Then we can go to these groups and remind them of (those resources). There are so many things. You could give tax incentives to people who want to build more shelters. I think the start is to get people more aware and increase the investment, simply put.”

Q: “In 2019, Louisville Metro Government conducted an assessment that showed an unmet need of more than 31,000 housing units for the city’s poorest residents. What should city government do to ensure those needs are met?”

Ellenberger: “We need to invest in fixing up older homes. Get a list of all the abandoned properties and just give them away or sell them as cheaply as possible. You can give out tax incentives to build them up and rent them out. The city should be asking for more investment from whoever’s interested, big-business billionaires or people who want to flip houses. We need to find more people that want to do that.

I think getting the awareness down to all the age groups of how much of a problem it really is is important. It’s hard to tell if people really care, if they really want to do things. It seems to me like the majority of citizens are fairly apathetic when it comes to actually doing anything, and just say, ‘Let the government do it.’ That’s another really main issue. We need to get more people involved, including the youngest of our society.”

Q: “The mayoral candidates from the major parties have promised to get more affordable housing built. But what do you mean when you talk about housing that is affordable? I feel like a lot of residents see housing being built with incentives, but when they look at the rent prices they say, ‘Well, that’s not really affordable to me.’”

Ellenberger: “Basically, we have to decide what income level we want to target, see where’s the biggest need and go from there. You just have to enforce affordable rent rates. It’s possible the city could get into tiny homes. Or those kinds of homes they have in Japan: They’re not like hotels, but they’re just like a little space on the wall you call home. We could build things like that, where it’s basically a bed and then there’s a shower/ bathroom that people can share.”

Q: “What are some practical steps you’d take to get more affordable housing off the ground?”

Ellenberger: “One thing I would like to start with is the education. Not just education for kids but adult education classes: how to rehab a house, how to flip a house, how to manage property. Hopefully, you can find some more upper- income or middle-income people that might be interested in doing that. And then just enforce certain rent rates and increase tax incentives. But I want to start with education.”

Q: “Louisville is a city of neighborhoods, and for many people their neighborhoods are their home in a larger sense. If elected, how would you improve the quality of residents’ neighborhoods, whether that’s safety, walkability, resources...?”

Ellenberger: “Well, that’s another great question and one that I have thought a lot about. One thing I’d like to start with is working with the police. Then I want to actually pick a particular home, or what I would call a ‘safe house.’ Not, you know, where you can go and sit and get away from the police, but more like a place where people could go if they’re having trouble. We can put a safe house in each and every neighborhood, maybe within every few miles or blocks You could designate somebody, like a neighborhood watch, and really push that for neighborhoods. It could be like a miniaturized government, with judges, whatever you want to call it. I think that having somebody in every neighborhood that people know they could go to — with a police station, government offices, a care center — that’s where I would start. We’d have to talk to somebody who actually lives in each and every one of those neighborhoods, and that would be a good start.”

Q: “The geographic boundaries of Louisville expanded greatly with the 2003 city-county merger. But many people living outside of the urban core say they feel disconnected from the city and their local government. What can be done to improve that?”

Ellenberger: “Well, the first thing, like I said, was the education and publicity, giving people of all age groups something they can get involved with. That could be my voting proposal. I would start with that, that way people can get online and actually vote on all of the issues.”


These interviews are featured in the “Home” issue of Louisville Magazine produced in partnership with  Louisville Public Media.

Tell us — what does home mean to you? We hope you’ll take a few minutes to reflect and  answer these questions.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.