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Affordable housing shortage impacting renters locally and nationwide

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Mar 18, 2017 at 10:44 PM

Behind recent efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing for low-income renters in the Johnson City area is a national housing shortage impacting more than half of a new record-high percentage of low- and middle-income Americans who rent their homes.

The online rental service Apartmentlist.com reported last week that since the recession, both the number of Americans who rent their homes and the number who are “overburdened” by rent — who pay more than 40 percent of their monthly income for rent — have grown to all-time highs.

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota shows more than 50 percent of renters at both low and middle income levels are classified as overburdened.

And the National Low-Income Housing Commission reports that among those who live in extreme poverty, or an the estimated 11 million American households, 71 percent spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities. The NLIHC further reports that for every 100 extremely poor households, there are only 35 affordable rental units, equating to a national deficit of 3.9 million affordable units.

Richard McClain, executive director of the Johnson City Housing Authority, which has spent the past several years working to address the shortage, provided local numbers.

According to McClain, the housing authority maintains a consistent public housing waiting list of close to 400 low-income households. In February, the housing authority had a waiting list of approximately 250 applicants for Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers and another 50 households that had been granted vouchers but had not found Section 8 eligible properties available to rent.

“The Section 8 waiting list was closed for a while because it was so long. It will probably close again in a couple of months. At close to 400, it will take a couple of years to whittle all that down. It’s been that way for years,” McClain said.

The Housing Authority has been working to increase the availability of affordable housing in the local community for the past several years through its new nonprofit development corporation, Keystone Development Inc.

With grant funding from the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency, Keystone Development opened its first newly constructed rent voucher complex in 2015 at Alan Court, a seven-unit, fully handicap-accessible and energy efficient development designated for low-income veterans at risk of homelessness.

Its second complex is under phase one construction on Baker Street, and will include 12 similar apartment units also designated for at-risk veterans and for 18-year-olds who aged out of foster care. The Baker Street development is also being built with grant funding from the THDA and matching funds the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati, Bank of Tennessee and Keystone Development.

THDA grant funding was awarded for phase two of the Baker Street project in December and construction is scheduled to begin following the completion of the phase one units later this year.

With the announcement of December grant award, THDA Executive Director Ralph M. Perrey said, "We are pleased to continue supporting innovative projects like this that seek to fill a growing need in our communities."

Addressing the affordable housing shortage in the local area and statewide, Perrey said Friday, "THDA realizes that a lack of access to affordable housing is a very real issue in the Tri-Cities, as it is in other areas of the state.”

To address the shortage, Perrey said, "We provide developers with tools like tax credits and financing to keep them actively engaged in creating and managing affordable housing and we also administer programs that provide grants to local agencies to help them better assist those in need of affordable housing."

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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