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Rental Housing Out of Reach for Many in KY

May 19, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Finding a decent, affordable place to live in Kentucky isn't getting any easier, according to a recent national study. The report says while Kentucky rents have had a slight uptick over last year, rents have increased 35 percent in the last decade.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition study finds that, in the Bluegrass State, the fair-market rent for a modest, two-bedroom apartment is $634 a month.

Penny Young, executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, says that means a household must earn at least $25,000 a year to comfortably pay for rent and utilities. That much rent, Young adds, is too steep for many seniors and low-wage-earning families.

"There's a disparity between what families are earning versus what they can afford in their particular area."

According to Young, high rents are contributing to homelessness in Kentucky, and some of those who would otherwise be out on the street are doubling up with family and friends.

Young says Kentucky families making minimum wage - $7.25 an hour - or even a few dollars above that, are too financially strapped to live in market-rate housing because private developers and owners usually charge higher rents to cover debt.

However, housing subsidies can help, Young says.

"What we're able to do with the federal HUD programs is to take grant money and write the cost of those units down to the developer-owners. That way, those rents can be much cheaper - they don't have to charge really high rents to cover their debt service."

Government programs are only part of the solution to affordable housing, though, Young says. She urges private businesses to review their payroll outputs, too.

"If you're a business that's making millions of dollars in profits, and you're paying very low wages, then you're setting your employees up for failure, because they're not able to afford something that is decent, safe and sanitary for their family."

The high cost of renting, Young says, is why housing advocates want Congress to maintain the current level of funding for HUD and rural housing programs.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, today's rate of home ownership is at the lowest level since 1998, and the demand for rental housing is expected to grow because of the poor economy and foreclosure crisis.

More information is available at www.nlihc.org.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY