Citing City Finances, Council Denies Affordable Housing Trust Fund Transfer

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Citing the city’s unpaid medical debt and unfinished guidelines for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Evansville City Council voted 5-4 to deny transferring $100,000 to the trust fund, which helps low income residents with things like emergency home repairs and buying, retaining or finding affordable housing.

Council members Connie Robinson, Jonathan Weaver, H. Dan Adams and Jim Brinkmeyer voted in favor of the transfer of money.

The proposed transfer of money to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund was one of several noteworthy items on the city council’s agenda Monday night. The meeting drew a large crowd that exceeded the occupancy limit of 86, prompting some people to watch the meeting from a nearby overflow room.

The proposed transfer was brought to the city council by the Department of Metropolitan Development and its director, Kelley Coures. Earlier this year, the city was notified that a developer wanting to build several affordable housing units failed to secure tax credits from the federal government, freeing up $100,000 that the city had earmarked for infrastructure improvements like sidewalk repairs.

Affordable housing has been a much-discussed topic in recent weeks, culminating in a heated traveling city hall meeting several weeks ago concerning the future of Lincoln Estates, an income-based housing complex on Evansville’s south side. Many residents both in and outside of the complex lamented about the lack of affordable housing available.

“The $100,000 that was appropriated is not going to be used for the project that it was appropriated for, which was a housing project. It seemed like a natural fit to move it into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for housing projects,” Coures said. “You know if the council wants the money to sit there until September, we can do that. We’ll be bringing it back. It’s not over but it was just delayed.”

During discussion of the finance ordinance, First Ward Councilman and Finance Chair Dan McGinn provided a glimpse into the city’s current financial condition. While the general fund had a positive cash balance of more than $400,000, the city’s hospitalization insurance fund had a negative balance of more than $4,000,000. The unpaid medical debt is a major concern, McGinn said, factoring into his decision to vote no on the transfer of money to the trust fund.

“This every-dime-we-have-to-spend approach keeps me awake at night,” McGinn said. “We cannot be big brother, big sister, mother and father to everyone. Government cannot afford it.”

Council President Missy Mosby echoed McGinn’s sentiments and also said she had an issue with the fact that the trust fund’s revamped guidelines are still a work-in-progress. Beneficiaries of the trust fund have to meet certain low-income guidelines but as of now there are no guidelines for which projects will receive trust fund dollars.

“With a lot of questions being posed, it is very difficult but we’ve got to quit just spending everything we find,” Mosby said.

At Large Councilman Jonathan Weaver expressed disappointment with the vote, saying affordable housing is a major issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“We’ve heard it especially over the last couple of weeks with Traveling City Hall. You heard it from Rev. Adrian Brooks. You hear it from CAJE. You hear it from Councilwoman Robinson,” Weaver said. “We have a need for affordable housing so it is disappointing that it didn’t pass.”

City officials say $500,000 has already been pledged for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. That money is coming from Tropicana’s lease pre-payments, which will be paid to the city once the casino’s new land-based location is complete in 2018.

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