Greater Louisville Inc. The Metro Chamber of Commerce
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February 4, 2022 11:25am

OP-ED: Chamber executives say attracting, retaining businesses requires affordable workforce housing

This op-ed originally appeared in the Northern Kentucky Tribune on February 4, 2022

Kentucky is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. It makes our jobs – working at some of our state’s largest pro-business organizations – exciting. We are proud to call Kentucky home and to help businesses thrive here.

Especially in our positions, we are always looking for ways to ensure we continue – as individual communities and as a state – to grow and expand our business community.

In recent years, Kentucky has successfully recruited various companies to relocate to our state – bringing thousands of open jobs and critical economic investment. As we work to attract more great businesses to the Bluegrass, we must also ensure our state is equally attractive to employees to ensure we have the workforce to fill these open positions.

Shelby Williams Somervell

One thing that comes to mind – but has not always been part of the conversation – is the need for core infrastructure, like affordable housing, for the folks who keep our businesses running. Secure housing options that don’t empty the pocketbook for employees and their families is a must-have and often a determining factor in individual relocation decisions. Housing issues are not only a community concern – they must also be an economic development priority. Companies will only bring jobs where there are people to fill them, and people will only locate where there is housing that fits their needs and their income.

Current numbers don’t lie. They show that nearly one-fourth of Kentuckians spend more than 50% of their salaries on housing. That doesn’t leave people with enough money for basic necessities, daycare, and other common goods – let alone any leftover for savings for emergency situations. In 2021, Kentucky was short more than 77,000 affordable homes and with the housing market, as it is, we can only imagine this number will continue to rise. Kentucky cannot continue on this path if we want to remain attractive to the kind of businesses that could and should be here.

Fortunately, the Kentucky General Assembly is considering legislation that would serve as a solution to this growing concern. The Workforce and Affordable Housing Tax Credit (HB 86) would make more homes available at affordable prices by establishing a tax credit as an incentive to construct workforce housing units. This would help solve our housing crisis while also enhancing our new business recruitment efforts.

What’s even more exciting is that we have an opportunity to be a leader among peer and neighboring markets on this. Many other states are experiencing similar workforce housing shortages, and if Kentucky adopts workforce housing tax credit legislation, we can prove that we are ready for even more economic investment. Let’s be a leader and show we are serious about taking care of our businesses, employees and their families.

20 other states have already proven the success of the tax credit. Studies even show that the tax credit will pay for itself and bring revenue to the state. If we constructed 6,559 new affordable housing units, for example, studies show they would generate an estimated $178.7 million in tax revenues for state and local governments and create approximately 3,539 jobs each year of the program. This win-win legislation is vital to the workforce, which is vital to growing the state’s business community.

Kentucky has a real chance to make a positive difference for today’s workforce and ensure our economic growth continues for years to come. The three metro chambers of Commerce Lexington, Greater Louisville Inc., and the Northern Kentucky Chamber have all shared support for workforce housing tax credits and we are encouraged by the momentum that workforce housing tax credit legislation has seen in the state legislature. We encourage our legislators to make it a priority in 2022.

Shelby Williams Somervell is vice president of Government Affairs and Communications at Greater Louisville Inc. Tami Wilson is vice president of Public Affairs at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.