By the end of 2024, Indiana state, municipal and county governments are scheduled to receive and spend more than $5.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan money.
The cash is flowing in around the state, and it could have a transformative effect on our communities. To name a few, Terre Haute is getting $38.2 million. Kokomo will receive more than $20 million. New Albany is to garner over $16 million. Counties are also being awarded sizable sums of money.
Talk to an elected official and they’ll tell you that the requests for spending those ARP funds are extensive. When there’s a pot of money, everyone has an idea on how it should be spent.
Infrastructure projects and bonuses to essential public employees have been some of the most popular proposals for use of the funds. While those are worthy causes, the act is titled the American Rescue Plan for a reason. There are Americans who are struggling to pay their bills, put food on the table and acquire adequate housing, and those issues should be prioritized at the local level.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Indiana has a shortage of rental homes that are both affordable and available for extremely low-income residents. The organization states in its report on Indiana that such residents are “severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing.”
And as a result, according to the coalition, those low-income residents are more likely than other renters to sacrifice healthcare and healthy food in order to pay the rent.
Such a problem doesn’t just plague the impoverished. Lack of adequate housing results in a need for more government subsidies, which means taxpayers have to pay for those costs.
Some government agencies are electing to spend ARP funds to assist the homeless, aid struggling families and bolster poverty-based youth programs. But more should be done.
Jeffersonville is a perfect example of a community that should be addressing low-and-moderate-income housing with some of its ARP funding.
The city is pursuing a series of grants to stack with its $10 million in ARP funds to expand the wastewater treatment facility at River Ridge Commerce Center. It may save sewer customers a few dollars a month, but it will primarily aid the industrial park.
This is a case of putting the cart before the horse.
If River Ridge attracts a massive employer to the Clark County park, where would the workers live? And unless wages are going to be upwards of $25 hourly, how would they afford to obtain adequate housing?
Most average apartments in Southern Indiana charge over $800 in monthly rent. Jeffersonville also continues to grapple with a homelessness issue. Jobs are wonderful, but they mean little if they don’t pay enough to cover housing.
It’s a perfect example of how a city and county could partner and spend portions of their ARP funds to address affordable housing. And with neighboring New Albany set to reduce its number of public housing units, it’s an issue of regional importance.
The U.S. Treasury Department states that among the ARP funding objectives, supporting immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses is a priority.
There’s no more immediate demand for those in need of rescue than stable housing. Indiana decision-makers should make sure that some of the rescue funds truly go to save the most vulnerable. And such expenditures should be in transformative amounts, not just a token appropriation in order to check a box.