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Tackling the affordable housing problem remains a challenge amid significant poverty

 

Nearly one out of every four Lafayette County families currently live in poverty with 16 percent of county residents living in deep poverty.

The child poverty rate is just under 27 percent. And for households led by single mothers, that rate is nearly 55 percent.

Those are a few of the revealing poverty rate numbers that came to light during a county comprehensive plan steering committee meeting Tuesday.

James Thomas, a professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi, told the committee those numbers were based on a 2014 study from the American Community Survey, a household survey produced by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I know there has been some concern about whether these numbers are being inflated because of the student population. At the individual level, perhaps,” Thomas said.

He added that in 2014 approximately 28 percent of the university’s students received Pell grants, “which is a good indicator that they come from families with low incomes.”

“A vast majority of Pell grants are awarded to households with incomes less than $30,000,” Thomas said.

Nearly 45 percent of all Ole Miss students in 2014 took out federal student loans, according to Thomas, with an average loan of $7,210 just for one school year.

“So when we talk about how students may be inflating our poverty rates, it makes me think two things are not being considered,” Thomas said. “One, they live here for most of the calendar year and two, they also face economic hardships.”

Throughout the process of developing the comprehensive plan, the steering committee has grappled with exact poverty rate numbers and it is hopeful the data the university can provide will help going forward with the major issue of affordable housing.

“Those numbers are frightening, but not surprising at all,” said T.J. Ray, one of the committee members. “But can you crunch the numbers that show what we need to do to provide affordable housing. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Thomas said “housing insecurity” varies.

“There is probably not going to be a magic bullet,” Thomas said. “It’s going to take a comprehensive plan that tackles housing insecurity from a number of different socio-economic conditions.”

Ben Requet, the city’s planning administrator and committee member, said one of the biggest housing problems has been the rental market “and how the student in this community impacts the rental market.”

“Many rental homes in Oxford are priced by the bedroom,” Requet said. “And so a traditional family of three is looking at in the city of Oxford anywhere from $1,200 to $2,200. How do we address that?”

He said the student housing issue takes away from the traditional apartment complex.

“And we’re losing those options. It’s a frustrating dilemma,” Requet said. “If we’re going to solve this problem, we’re going to have to think outside the box.”

The university will also develop a course study at the honors college taught by Thomas next spring that will help deal with the affordable housing issue in the county and develop data that can be used by the county and the city.

“The goal of this course is to help us define what the housing problem is with a better set of data,” said supervisor Kevin Frye who is heading up the steering committee.