Community

People fighting a proposed affordable housing development in Norton Commons are not getting the support of their Louisville Metro Council representative.

Councilman Kelly Downard, a Republican who represents the planned urbanist community on the eastern edge of Jefferson County, told WFPL News on Wednesday he supports the project, which is causing a kerfuffle in the neighborhood. Opponents of the project have been lobbying Downard in recent weeks.

Residents are divided about the potential for lower-income earners moving into the neighborhood. A group of some 100 residents have argued the development and its amenities are too expensive for people earning less than $44,000 annually — the high end of income qualification for the proposed development — and could reduce property values in the growing community.

Others welcome the planned affordable housing development, calling it the missing link in a neighborhood with inclusiveness as an objective.

The proposal would bring a 21-unit, three-story apartment complex to what’s now a vacant lot in the heart of the 600-acre community, which is home to more than 60 businesses and some 1,100 households. The apartments would be reserved for residents earning between 50 and 60 percent of the area median income — or $28,000 to $44,000 annually — under the proposed plan.

The developer, Steve Kersey, said once residents qualify, they can earn up to 150 percent of the area median income while continuing to live in the units. This, he said, would enable residents to build a savings and, perhaps, buy a home.

Opponents of the project have circulated a petition calling for a “public forum” and are beginning to take their complaints to Downard, a Republican whose district includes Norton Commons.

But Downard said he supports the project. He said the effort to kill the development is misguided.

“They want to keep some people out of their neighborhood,” he said. “You don’t get to choose who your neighbors are. I don’t think anybody does anywhere in the city.”

Downard said opponents of the project have called his office, “screamed at me, called me some names.”

Downard said Norton Commons has always sought to include a mix of housing options for people with varying incomes. That echoes a statement from a spokesman for the community.

“You can’t just say you’re going to build a wall around your neighborhood,” Downard said.

Shortage Of Affordable Housing In Louisville

The fight to stop the project comes as Louisville struggles with a severe shortage of affordable housing options.

Nearly 60,000 households here spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and nearly 24,000 of those spend at least 50 percent of their income on housing, according to U.S. Census data.

Families who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to be cost-burdened. They may struggle to afford other necessities such as food, clothing and medical care.

Norton Commons

Despite his support, Downard said he isn’t without concerns about the project. He said he’s struggling to understand certain details, like how the project would be funded and who would be given priority to live in the planned units.

“I’m still asking questions,” he said. “I’m getting answers, but I’m getting them slowly.”

And he echoed some complaints from project opponents regarding a lack of transparency about the project from city officials and development officials in Norton Commons.

“Tell people what’s coming, tell people what’s going on,” he said.

Downard said he was unaware of the project until media reports.

Financing is multifaceted, according to Kersey, the developer. The $4.3 million project would be funded, in part, by a recently formed revolving loan program, Louisville CARES, and through the Kentucky Housing Corporation’s tax credit program.

To qualify for some funding mechanisms, Kersey said priority must be given to residents who struggle most to find permanent housing, such as residents with mental illness, those on public housing waiting lists and military veterans.

He stressed these priorities would “come into play” only when the property is fully occupied and a waiting list is established. These residents would still be held to strict qualifying standards, he said. People convicted of violent crimes and those with some drug offenses would not qualify, he said.

Councilman Bill Hollander, chair of the Metro Council’s majority Democratic caucus and a staunch affordable housing supporter, praised Downard for voicing support for the controversial project.

He said it’s important to have workforce housing across the city. Such housing, he said, can make it easier for people to get to work and, in turn, make neighborhoods stronger.

“Change is difficult for some people,” Hollander said. “It’s something we have to do to be a better community.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.