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October 31, 2006

City Strobe: Mind the gap

The campaign trail tends to bring out the best distortions in, from and about every politician: The most gymnastic of twists are always necessary to make dismal things look decent. They call it putting lipstick on a pig.Take, for instance, the idea that the economy is currently thriving. We’ll examine this notion through the current housing market; particularly, let’s look at rentals in Louisville Metro.The minimum wage in Kentucky is $5.15 per hour, same as federal law dictates. If one works 40 hours per week at this wage, 52 weeks a year without vacation, his or her before-taxes income at the end of the year will be $10,712. That leaves $892.66 of gross income per month. Housing advocates nationwide recommend spending no more than 30 percent of monthly income on housing; thus, one should spend $267.80 a month on an apartment, a price that’s simply impossible to locate without some level of government assistance.One of two things would have to happen to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair-market value in the Louisville metropolitan statistical area (including nine Kentucky and four Indiana counties), according to a new report by the Metropolitan Housing Coalition: make more than twice the minimum wage or work 84 hours a week.In the report, MHC found that the number of households in the city spending more than 30 percent of monthly income on rent increased significantly between 1999 and 2004, from 36.2 percent to 46.5 percent. Housing costs have shot up drastically while wages have stagnated and, in some cases, declined by almost 5 percent over the same period.“What we have is a gap, and we can bridge that gap a number of ways,” said Cathy Hinko, MHC executive director. “One is, of course, people having more income to be able to simply afford an apartment.”MHC has consistently supported a living wage, which here would be $10.83 an hour (based in part on housing costs). Though Congress has failed to pass an increase in the minimum wage since 1997, 18 states have, breaking with the federal government in a grassroots uprising of sorts. “It’s part of a national trend — states have found it so inadequate they’ve gone ahead and raised their minimum wages,” Hinko said.But other problems plague the advancement of affordable housing. According to a report by Louisville’s Coalition for the Homeless, cited in the MHC report, the number of homeless people in Louisville MSA has increased and shelters are overcrowded; meanwhile, there is a shortage of affordable housing in the area — 25 percent of homeless asked by the Coalition gave an inability to pay rent or mortgage as the reason for their homelessness.Hinko, who is part of Mayor Jerry Abramson’s task force assigned to help create a local Affordable Housing Trust Fund, said Louisville Metro could offer more incentives to build low- and moderate-income level rental units in the area, particularly in places outside the urban core, where the vast majority of such housing is currently located.Given the information — stagnated and decreasing wages, an increase in the number of homeless, a lull in the amount of housing available to those making the immorally low minimum wage — the argument that the economy is currently soaring sounds about as accurate as the pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s WMD. —Stephen GeorgeArmaguardin’The security guards in Louisville’s government buildings don’t carry firearms. And Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who is known for catching speeding bullets in his teeth, can’t be everywhere at once. (No, it’s true.) So Metro Councilman Jim King wants to arm security guards at City Hall in case any unruly citizens get any ideas about going all Chuck Norris on the Louisville Metro Council. King wants an ordinance that would allow the security guards — who currently must defend Council members with their guile and their sick karate-chop skills alone — to carry guns because police aren’t always present at Metro Council meetings, where citizens have been known to have their public-smoking privileges taken away. (And who can doubt that the prospect of a Camel Light-jonsein’ populace going through community tobacco withdrawal is a bit worrisome? If the gun ordinance won’t fly, maybe King should consider distributing Nicorette at committee meetings instead.) While most cities don’t arm their City Hall security guards, it’s well established that most cities are wussies. King’s heat-packing proposal has initial support from most of the Council and the Mayor’s office, provided the ordinance includes a firearms training requirement for security guards. —Jim WelpOh, what a week for LouisvilleNothing beats winning. But there’s little doubt that the University of Louisville’s willingness to play football on TV on Thursday nights on ESPN has also helped coach Bobby Petrino and his Cardinals get where they’re going — in a hurry.In fact, Thursday night TV has helped all the schools of the Big East Conference steal some prime attention from college football’s we-only-play-on-Saturdays schools.Louisville jumped into the Big East last year just as three league schools — Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College — jumped out to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. One wondered what was so attractive about Tobacco Road football — particularly for Boston College — but off they went. The Big East didn’t die; in fact, the league has experienced a publicity and rankings rise, led by 3rd-ranked West Virginia and 5th-ranked Louisville, with Rutgers and Pittsburgh coming along now, too.Thursday night, unbeaten West Virginia (7-0) squares off against unbeaten Louisville (7-0) in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium — with BCS bowl berths on the line, and millions of college football fans looking on. Plus perhaps a few prized recruiting prospects. (You can imagine a U of L coach on the sideline putting through a live cell phone call to a big-time prospect during the game. Can you see us now?!)And, as it does so well, the city of Louisville will make an even bigger party out of the football showdown. ESPN also telecasts the Breeders’ Cup World Championships Saturday at Churchill Downs and will cross-promote the two events with live shots during the game that include Churchill Downs, just a couple furlongs away. The track and its famed Twin Spires will be lighted and spotlighted. On Saturday, we wouldn’t be surprised to see quarterback Brian Brohm come riding down the track on Whirlaway.Game Time. Party Time. Post Time. The city has it all going on. —Bill Doolittle Are we missing something? Write here: citystrobe@leoweekly.com