Leadership Indianapolis hosted a series of virtual panels throughout February to discuss the housing situation in Indianapolis and try to find solutions.
Housing can be an intimidating subject because of its complexity, but policy experts, housing professionals and organizers attempted to lift the veil for viewers over the course of three sessions, each dedicated to a different aspect of housing.
What is the housing situation in Indy?
The first questions to answer for the series Feb. 2 were simple but could lead to complicated answers: Does Indianapolis have a housing crisis, and why? Joe Hanson, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, said there’s no need to make the issue too complex.
“We have a housing crisis,” he said, “because housing costs more than people can pay.”
At the time of the panel, Hanson said there were only 333 homes on the market in Marion County that fall between $75,000 and $140,000, whereas six years ago there were about 2,500 houses in that range.
Lourenzo Giple, from Rottmann Collier Architects, said it all goes back to redlining.
“Everything we have now is a trickling down of sorts,” he said. “It’s connected to everything we do.”
Indianapolis is now seeing “reverse flight,” Giple said, which represents the opposite of white flight in the 1950s and ‘60s. White people want back in, and that creates an unbalance, especially in neighborhoods that have been dealing with disinvestment for decades.
In the second installment Feb. 9, the group discussed the eviction crisis in Indianapolis. This conversation came after the Indiana Senate voted to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill, Senate Enrolled Act 148, that would negate renter protections the Indianapolis City-County Council passed in 2020.
Natalie James, coalition builder at Prosperity Indiana, explained that the current housing crisis in the city is the result of the historic shortage of housing. James said the shortage has always disproportionately affected Black Hoosiers and Hoosiers of color.
“There’s never been a great effort to push for fair housing in the state,” James said. “The issue with [SEA] 148 is that it would expand eviction powers significantly for landlords.”
The House of Representatives also voted to override the veto. When she talked about that possibility, James said landlords could evict for essentially any reason, including tenants requesting construction in their property.
The eviction process, according to Breanca Merritt of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, is not only traumatic, but mostly targeted toward Black families.
Stereotypes about Black people being the only demographic to benefit from public housing lead to public housing being underfunded, which paves the way for more families to face eviction. However, Indiana evictions aren’t easy to find data on.
Merritt said there haven’t been many updates in Indiana’s eviction database since 2016, making it difficult to track evictions and how Indiana compares to other states.
The last panel for the series included policy experts to discuss solutions to Indianapolis’ housing crisis.
Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said the General Assembly has made it difficult for local governments to mandate developers include a certain number of affordable houses or units in new projects. The only tool left, she said, is to provide incentives such as tax breaks.
“Legislators represent tenants, too,” Nelson said, “not just landlords and the housing industry.”
Kyle Arbuckle, housing advocacy organizer for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said there needs to be more protections and funding to help renters during the pandemic.
He said he’s optimistic, though, because there seems to be a growing awareness of the issues in housing, in part because recent Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren talked about it a lot during the primaries.
“I believe there’s a renewed sense of housing justice that is hopeful,” Arbuckle said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick. Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.