If you are reading this article, it’s probably safe to assume you have the privilege of having a roof over your head. You might even own your own home or can afford to pay the rent. As I walked to the Kroger’s near my home on this blustery, cold day, I passed three human beings who do not share that same privilege. What are we doing as a community, as a state, and as individuals to make it easier for those who are unhoused to receive the assistance they need?
In looking through the 300+ bills filed in the KYGA24 (so far), I found at least 13 that talk about housing in one fashion or another. They are not all good. They are not all kind. Take a look at some of them, and then let your conscience be your guide for any action you might or might not take.
HB 5 – The so-called “Safer Kentucky” bill
(Sponsored by Jared Bauman (R) from Jefferson County, plus 45 more Republican co-sponsors)
This is a high priority bill for the supermajority this session. Among its incredibly harsh portions is a section that says “establish an offense of criminal street camping.” Take a look at the bill language here on pages 13-15. Not only can you not really sleep anywhere if you happen to be unhoused, you can be charged with a misdemeanor. And our Republican legislators go even further and say that nobody can help these human beings find permanent housing with any state or federal monies UNLESS those initiatives require behavioral and rehabilitative efforts. We all know there are a plethora of those services available and easily accessible. Where do you sleep in the meantime? The other provisions of this “Incarcerate Every Kentuckian” bill will help assure there are even more unhoused individuals in the future.
Some actual good bills
Now, let’s contrast HB 5 with efforts to address some of the real issues surrounding persons who become unhoused.
Representatives Nima Kulkarni (D-40) and Lisa Willner (D-35) are two of the many champions for criminal justice reform and mental health treatment. There are some bipartisan efforts underway to chip away at some of the causes and remove some of the barriers.
HB 71 – (Nima Kulkarni D-40) provides for automatic expungement of records on an eviction proceeding after 3 years. It is very difficult to be able to rent if you have a record of an eviction, even if it’s in your distant past. This bill would help.
HB 76 – (Nima Kulkarni D-40) would update the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act to protect both the landlord and the renter. Many landlords keep their properties updated and fit to live in and some do not. Some residents are afraid to complain for lots of reasons, so they live in unfit conditions and pay high rents because they may not have anywhere else to go.
HB 100 – A bipartisan bill sponsored by Susan Witten (R-31) and Sarah Stalker (D-34) and others, who understand that people who become unhoused often don’t have the identity papers required to regain housing or other services. This bill would waive the cost of obtaining a birth certificate for individuals or a minor youth who are unhoused.
HB 102 – Another bipartisan bill, sponsored by Stephen Doan (R-69), Daniel Grossberg (D-30) and Nancy Tate (R-27), that recognizes what housing advocates have been saying for a while: local zoning laws need updating. This bill would require local governments to prioritize housing within zones by easing minimum square footage requirements. It would also facilitate the location of multifamily housing, accessory dwelling units, tiny homes, etc. The short title is the HOME Act (Housing Opportunities Made Easier Act).
I truly believe most Kentuckians want the best for their friends, neighbors, family, and, yes, even strangers. Let’s support efforts to make changes that help people. Let’s oppose efforts that continue to try to criminalize people who have a different life experience. As rents increase and housing becomes less and less affordable, I know Kentuckians can push our legislators to try to find solutions instead of raising more barriers.