Southern Indiana

Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Southern Indiana, the region was already battling a number of other health and economic issues. A new report highlights where organizations in the region should focus their efforts.

Affordable housing, substance abuse and livable wages were just a few of the issues highlighted in the 2021 “Priorities For Progress” needs assessment. The Community Foundation of Southern Indiana (CFSI) and Indiana University Southeast (IUS) partnered for the second time for the report. They published their first report in 2015.

“Those are the kinds of needles that you try to move long-term,” said Melissa Fry, director of the Applied Research and Education Center at IUS. “About every five years, it’s worth checking in on them to see whether local efforts are achieving their goals at that community, county or regional level… We want to see what things are moving in a positive direction and what things may be slipping in ways that we need to attend to.”

The groups plan to partner for the assessment about once every five years. Fry said the report identifies quality of life issues in Clark and Floyd counties that can be addressed by private, public and nonprofit sectors in the region.

“I envision those groups using the report really as a resource and a starting place for dialogue and discussion,” Fry said. “And for them to see those indicators, those measures that are in here as benchmarks from which they want to see growth and improvement, say over the next five years or the next 10 years.”

Communities in Clark and Floyd counties range from the urban and densely-populated, like New Albany, Jeffersonville and Clarksville, to more rural towns, like Borden, Henryville and Georgetown.

Needs sometimes differ between the two. Unlike more populated cities, smaller communities could benefit more from fitness centers and health clinics, for instance.

But Crystal Gunther, senior director of community philanthropy at CFSI, said there were also some similarities between rural and urban communities.

“Things like public transportation, there seems to be a little more access with TARC bus routes in the urban areas, but it is still not enough, and most certainly not enough in the rural areas,” Gunther said. “Grocery stores and food services–this is actually something that is not unique to rural areas.”

A combined 22,000 residents in the two-county region experience food insecurity, with 13,000 lacking reliable access to a full-service grocery store.

The assessment also identified a need for more affordable housing, both for owners and renters. Floyd County’s median home price is nearly $166,000, about $30,000 above the state average. Clark County’s median price is about $138,000. Thousands of residents are spending far more on rent than the 30% of monthly income defined as “affordable” by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Additional issues include racial and economic segregation, particularly in Floyd County. Smaller communities across both counties tend to have less diverse populations.

“The key thing was the inter-relatedness of all of our issues here in this community, and how, as a community, we can look at that and work together to try and make overall improvement on all levels,” said Linda Speed, president and CEO at CFSI.

But the report didn’t just focus on the negative.

“One consistent positive is that people generally really enjoy living here,” Fry said. “They feel a positive attachment to this community and its history, and they enjoy celebrating this community. So that’s a good, solid asset on which to base further development.”

The 99-page “Priorities For Progress” report is on the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana’s website.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.