State Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville wants to allow the city to control rents in west Louisville as a new initiative promises to incentivize development in the area.
The Kentucky General Assembly approved a bill last year creating the West End Opportunity Partnership (WEOP). The Partnership’s board is tasked with creating new incentives for businesses and housing developments to locate in the city’s West End. Some residents fear new development will bring gentrification and the displacement of longtime residents, overwhelmingly people of color.
Scott, a Democrat, filed a bill that would amend the original WEOP legislation and grant Louisville Metro the ability to control private rents in some western neighborhoods. She said the legislation was written to address some community concerns.
“Unfortunately, people did not have enough time to provide feedback on that  bill because it was introduced at the 11th hour and then rushed through the legislature,” Scott told WFPL News. “Once people were able to dig really deep into the bill, what they found is that there is no protection for renters.”
Scott’s proposal would apply to the nine west Louisville neighborhoods that are included in the WEOP footprint: Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park Duvalle, Park Hill, Parkland, Portland, Russell and Shawnee. It would allow the city to institute rent controls, but it does not mandate they do so or specify how it should be done.
Scott said she understands controlling private rents may not be palatable to Kentucky’s Republican-controlled General Assembly. But she said lawmakers should support giving some responsibility and ownership to the local government in Louisville.
“The General Assembly decided in 2021 that it wanted to try to be the savior of predominantly Black folks in the West End of Louisville,” Scott said. “This is an opportunity for the General Assembly to step back and say, ‘Let’s listen to the people who represent the folks who are most directly impacted.’’
The Partnership is starting off with $30 million in seed money from Louisville Metro, the state and private donors. It will also oversee a tax increment financing district over the nine neighborhoods for the next 20 years. That means the city will note the amount of tax revenue that came in from those neighborhoods for 2020. In each subsequent year, 80% percent of the money that comes in above that number will automatically go to the Partnership for reinvestment.
The WEOP board will be made up of 12 people appointed by Gov. Andy Beshear, Mayor Greg Fischer and local universities. It will also include nine resident representatives for each of the neighborhoods in the tax increment financing district. Those residents will be selected by the board and a group of “neighborhood nominators” in the coming months.
Residents and organizers with the #StopTheWestEndTIF campaign have said they are concerned new businesses and developments in west Louisville will mean higher property values and taxes, and thus higher rents — otherwise known as gentrification.
While the WEOP legislation does include some protections for homeowners — they’ll be able to apply for rebates on any property tax increases over the next 20 years — there are no protections for renters. Roughly 66% of current west Louisville residents rent their house or apartment, according to data from Louisville Metro.
Yolanda Walker is the president of the California Neighborhood Leadership Council and an organizer with the opposition campaign. She said they’ve expressed their concerns about gentrification directly to WEOP board members.
“Their rent might get elevated, it might get jacked up,” she said. “If they’re doing minimum wage jobs, they might not be able to pay that new rent. So that would displace them, and now they have to find someplace else to live.”
Walker said she appreciates Scott’s attempt to mitigate the harm they see in the WEOP legislation, but she likened it to a “bandaid.” She other residents with the #StopTheTIF campaign want to see the legislation scrapped entirely. Maybe then there could be discussions around a proposal for revitalizing the West End that comes directly from residents, Walker said..
“I’m not against protecting the homeowners or protecting the renters,” she said. “But you’ve passed something without the community’s input, and now you say you want to fill all of these gaps.”
Louisville Metro included protections for West End renters in its list of priorities for the 2020 state legislative session.
Metro Council President David James, a Democrat who represents Old Louisville and who is also the interim chair of the WEOP board, declined to comment on the bill, saying he hasn’t had the chance to review it. James also declined to say whether the board would discuss proposals to amend the WEOP legislation passed in 2021.
Scott pre-filed her rent control bill in December, but it has not been assigned to a House committee yet.