City Council approves affordable housing resolution

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Council members voted to adopt a resolution set by the Fair Housing Task Force that furthers affordable housing and fair housing choice at the Columbia City Council meeting Monday night.

Housing Programs Manager Randy Cole presented findings and recommendations by a Fair Housing Task Force report on fair housing impediments. Cole said they identified five categories impacting fair housing access in Columbia: housing disparities, opportunity, segregated living patterns, concentrated areas of poverty and policy compliance.

The task force, made up of members of several different boards and commissions, first met in July. It aims to use fair housing data and community feedback to provide recommendations concerning fair housing policies, according to its website.

Cole explained to council members that to continue receiving funds from the Community Development Block Grant program and HOME Investment Partnership for the city’s fair housing projects, it is necessary to analyze impediments and work to further fair housing practices.

The task force conducted a fair housing survey in November, hosted multiple small group discussions and reviewed GIS maps with demographic data to inform their analysis, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The task force plans to hire an outside firm to assist with affordable housing efforts and develop policies and incentives, according to the resolution. Cole said the task force wants to allocate funds more strategically by creating a "housing trust fund."

The resolution defines housing as "fair" when a person pays no more than 30% of their gross monthly income on housing, including utilities.

Andrew Hutchinson, North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association board president, said the north central neighborhood supports the definition.

Hutchinson said while the task force's report notes the average median income for a Columbia resident at around $47,000, people who live in the First Ward experience a much lower median income.

"The AMI of the First Ward sits at $18,000," he said. "A lot of folks say it's because of student housing, but the Sixth Ward and Fourth and Fifth still have large amounts of student housing. The next lowest is $31,000 in the Sixth Ward."

Hutchinson said the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association finds it concerning that 34% of Columbia residents are paying more than 30% of their income on housing. He also estimated that out of 14,000 renters, 12,000 are housing cost-burdened.

He said the association thinks it’s important to focus on renovating existing properties and working to lower utility costs.

Barbara Jefferson, who lives in the First Ward, called the resolution a "beginning step."

"I want to put emphasis on considering rehabbing homes, and they could be made energy effective versus building something new," Jefferson said. "When I think of something new, I think about how some of that money could be used for infrastructure."

Cole explained the city rehabs four to 10 homes every year, spending between $250,000 to $300,000 on those projects. The process is time-intensive and and a lot of work goes into it, he said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said he believes the cost of utilities is the greatest limiting factor to affordability.

While utility costs can drive up housing costs, Cole said there are other issues that need to be addressed before building homes that are energy efficient.

"Often times, I found there’s 20 to $30,000 worth of work before we get to that," Cole said. "A lot of homes we go into have foundation issues. A lot of the homes you think you may be able to add insulation into have inopportune wiring."

Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp, who is a non-voting member on the task force, said he thinks they’ve come to a resolution that "moves the ball forward."

He said the biggest threat will be the challenges that come with property values rising as the community prospers.

"We’re going to have to be more robust in our approach to both facilitate and subsidize affordable housing," Trapp said. "And watch out for affordability and market conditions to make sure we’re not making additional squeezes on the affordable housing landscape."

Supervising editor is Olivia Garrett.

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