Join LOU-HOME to support housing stability

Published 1:50 pm Wednesday, June 2, 2021

#WeGetToLiveHere captures aspects of living in Oxford that are rightful points of pride – excellent public schools, a thriving downtown, vibrant cultural scene, abundant green space, and a caring community. Yet not all residents of Oxford can afford to live here so comfortably.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how a home means so much more than shelter. During the past year, those who were fortunate enough to do so have converted their homes into offices, virtual classrooms, makeshift gyms and playgrounds – a safe harbor in times of great uncertainty. The uncertainty of living in a pandemic is compounded by financial hardship when hours are reduced and jobs are eliminated as businesses struggle to stay afloat. This results in our neighbors having to make very real choices between paying for housing, utilities, transportation, medical care, or groceries.

Even before the pandemic, many of our neighbors in Oxford struggled with the cost of living. Oxford’s comprehensive plan, Vision 2037, identifies that most of the demand for affordable housing is driven by households earning less than $35,000 per year. Back in 2016, when the comprehensive plan was released, the city identified the need for an estimated 400 affordable rental housing units and 200 affordable housing units for purchase. Since that time, there has been movement to generate new affordable housing units, but the pandemic threatens to upend the progress that has been made.

LOU-HOME, the Lafayette, Oxford, University Home Ownership Management Enterprise, has been working to promote housing security and homeownership since 2006. LOU-HOME collaborates with public, private, and non-profit organizations to increase the availability and affordability of quality homes for qualified buyers who cannot find affordable homes in Lafayette County, provides support for successful ownership of these homes, and advocates for affordable housing. LOU-HOME is a partner in the development of Belle Rivers, one of the largest projects to expand access to affordable housing in Oxford.

Belle Rivers, located off of University Avenue, created 48 units for residents of Lafayette County earning up to 60% of the area median family income, which is $42,060 for a household of four. The nearby Eastover development boasts an additional 48 affordable housing units. Plans for the construction of an additional 46 units were announced in 2020, made possible by tax credits and private investors.

Financing for Belle Rivers was generated through a partnership between LOU-HOME and an affordable housing tax credit developer. Belle Rivers advances the goal of creating affordable homeownership; in 2034, renters will have the option to purchase their home at an affordable price, with all prior rental payments applied toward the purchase price. By February 2020, just prior to the pandemic, Belle Rivers was at 100% occupancy.

Our world has changed since that time. Mississippi Today recently reported that nearly 60% of renters in Mississippi are at risk of eviction, compared with 43% of households nationwide. While federal dollars are available to assist with rapid rehousing for people who are homeless, the reality is that housing insecurity impacts renters at a range of income levels.

There is an immediate way to help in Lafayette County. LOU-HOME is partnering with Interfaith Compassion Ministries to raise $10,000 that will provide direct assistance to families renting at Belle Rivers who have been unable to pay their bills due to economic disruptions during the pandemic. Donations can be made here at https://www.gofundme.com/f/louhome-rent-support

We get to live here. As we move beyond the pandemic, let’s give generously to make sure that all of our neighbors get to stay.

Laura Martin is a board member of LOU-HOME and associate director of the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at The University of Mississippi.