Affordable Housing
Affordable Housing: More than a place to live

The 2008 recession left approximately 8.4 million Americans without jobs, while others experienced dropped wages and reduced work hours, forcing many to lose their homes and turn to the rental market. The U.S. housing market also lost $7 trillion in home equity and also left many homeowners owing more than their house was worth.

The affordable housing market experienced its own losses, which are still being felt at the national level. In the past two years, Congress removed 100,000 housing vouchers and the federal government hasn’t added government housing in more than a decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Columbia Housing & Redevelopment Corporation aims to defy the national trend and provide affordable homes to those in need despite budget cuts, as well as educating individuals on ways to work themselves out of a poor economic situation.

As part of the proposed 2015-2019 Tennessee Consolidation Plan, a housing and community needs survey revealed rehabilitation assistance as one of the most important housing needs for a community. To CHRC Executive Director Trent Ogilvie, rehabilitation means educating an individual on how to life a quality life just as much as providing a home for someone who’s fallen on hard times.

“It does relate back to education and it does relate back to, ‘If I don’t have enough income to make it, how do I have a budget to control my expenses so I’m not always stuck in that deep despair of not ever having enough,” Ogilvie said. “It may lead to crime, health issues, or other situations. When you’re talking about affordable housing, it’s directly related to what can individuals afford and how can they get access?”

Losing the ability to obtain a voucher removes a person’s chances of escaping an area of concentrated poverty and giving them opportunities to have access to more available homes.

“The section 8 voucher is really two-fold. Not only is it helping meet the need of someone who needs affordable housing, but it also gives them mobility,” Ogilvie said. “So, they are no longer confined to a certain neighborhood where public housing may located or where they’ve got concentrations of poverty in that neighborhood.” Originally a design by the federal government, public housing was once conceived as placing certain groups of lowincome families in a designated area. That, Ogilvie says, is a recipe for concentration. “Right, wrong or indifferent … they established what is called ‘qualified census tracts.’ So when you look at history, they approved money to put housing of individuals with low income in certain areas. If you continue to do that, you’re going to have concentrations of poverty,” Ogilvie said. “You put low income people there, minimal education, no jobs, no opportunity, then you’re going to see higher crime and all of the other negative issues.”

Since 1959, the CHRC’s mission is to avoid a concentration of poverty in Columbia and Maury County. It now oversees 296 public housing units in the five communities of Southern Hills, Creekside, Northridge, Northridge Annex and most recently, Oakwood. It has also helped to build four single-family houses, with four more planned for this year, Ogilvie said.

In order to avoid concentration, there has to be diversity in housing options and individuals must receive a qualified amount of monthly income, or as Ogilvie puts it,”Love income does not mean no income.” Cost is based on 30 percent of a person’s monthly income and if a child is under 18, he or she must be enrolled in school.

CHRC’s program requires more of its applicants than a record of total income, however. The root of the problem is not the lack on income, Ogilvie said, but centers around a person’s behavior and understanding that things can be done to ensure they don’t remain in poverty.

“It’s not just that they have a right to affordable housing, but they have a responsibility that comes along with it,” he said. We believe that we are improving the community where a lot of people are struggling. A lot of people right now pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing.”

Rent and utilities, home upkeep, lack of employment and finding proper child care are three of the biggest issues people struggle with, he said. Rents have seen a 34 percent spike since 2002, with many now paying more than 50 percent of their total gross monthly income for it.

“That’s something I think, as a community, you need to look at, because if a person is paying almost 50 percent of their income related to housing, that’s a problem. That’s why you have to have diversification of housing to meet those needs so (individuals are) within that 30 percent range,” Ogilvie said. “All of those things, in my opinion, are very important.”

Watching the process for an individual to one day buy a house for their family without the needs of public housing gives the client a sense of self-responsibility and a sense of pride that goes beyond any dollar amount, he said. “We encourage literacy. We encourage education. We want individuals to know that affordable housing and keeping that housing affordable goes back to taking pride in where you live, valuing yourself, valuing the property that you have, and we’ve come a long way as far as an agency,” Ogilvie said.

At CHRC’s most recent inspection by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the agency received a 94 out of 100, which Ogilvie said is one of the highest scores it’s received despite losing 35 percent of its capital funding for housing repairs.

The CHRC has had such an impact that Maury County now has one of the highest demands for public housing. With 792 applicants currently on its waiting list, repairing the existing facilities and educating individuals to overcome the need for them is as important as it has ever been, Ogilvie said.

“We want to continue to keep it, but it takes a lot of vision, a lot of hard work,” Ogilvie said. “It takes a lot of money and the federal government has realized that we don’t have the money to keep up all of these properties. So, we want to give you the tools to go out and raise the capital you need from the private sector, from banks or through tax credits.”

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Powell, Jay. "Affordable Housing: More than a Place to Live." Columbia Daily Herald 23 May 2015: 2. GateHouse Media, Inc. Web. 1 July 2015.