Louisville Metro Council’s Budget Committee unanimously advanced a plan to spend $340 million dollars in remaining federal relief funds. 

Right now, the resolution proposes to spread the funds across several areas, including:

  • Affordable housing and unsheltered services
  • Workforce development and small business support
  • Improving health outcomes
  • Public safety 

District 4 Council member Jecorey Arthur said priority areas should be more focused.

“I’m thinking we just need A,B,C or 1,2,3. Make it simple, so that we can actually see the change ━ so that we can actually put a dent in the need,” Arthur said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change our city and we can’t fumble.”

Arthur is pushing to spend at least $131.6 million on building housing affordable enough for the city’s most vulnerable residents. He arrived at that amount by multiplying $130,000, by 1,013, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city, as of January. Arthur’s estimate is based on what he said the city projects it would cost to construct one low-income unit of housing.

“That’s just for housing alone. When you add on the wraparound services, when you add on case management, when you add on everything else that might be needed ━ we’re talking about almost half of the remaining American Rescue Plan Dollars,” Arthur said. “We really need $4.2 billion to close the housing gap.”

District 14 Council member Cindi Fowler, however, said the homelessness crisis will persist, no matter how much money is put toward alleviating it. 

“We are never going to solve homelessness completely because there are individuals that will not accept the help that we provide,” Fowler said. “While it’s a wonderful thought, we will not rid the streets of homeless people.” 

A recent survey of 111 unsheltered residents from 13 different encampments found that the majority of respondents would rather be outdoors than enter into the shelter system. But the data gathered by University of Louisville researchers largely shows people do want the assistance ━ just not if it impedes on their sense of agency. 

Deterrents listed include feeling unsafe; entry restrictions targeting those with substance use disorders; having to be separated from loved ones with other gender identities and the inability to take pets with them.

Democratic council members, including Brent Ackerson of District 26, disagreed with Fowler and said, for the first time in his Metro Council tenure, real change is attainable. But only if officials can agree to shorten the list of priorities.

“If we are micro-focused and we pick affordable housing and we pick homelessness and we throw hundreds of millions of dollars all at once into that ━ we might have a chance at being a model city in this nation,” Ackerson said. “But, in order to do that, it’s going to take almost all the money.”

Council member Paula McCraney of District 7 also urged her colleagues to consider the city’s most immediate and dire needs when it comes to allocating the federal funds.

“This is a one time opportunity. And we must have the political will to do what is transformative for this community,” McCraney said. “Doling out money as we have always been accustomed to in a budget process is not what this is.”

The full Metro Council will consider the spending priorities at its meeting Thursday, August 26. After that, officials will have the opportunity to decide how much money will go to each focus area.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.