One of the most significant issues facing Columbus came to light again recently in a study that showed that the city is the third most expensive in the state for rental housing.
The study said renters need to earn at least $16.46 an hour — $658 for a 40-hour work week before taxes — to afford the $856 fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment.
Bartholomew County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. But not enough employed workers earn at least $16.46 hourly in wages, meaning they can’t afford market-rent housing.
A complicating factor is that there is too little affordable housing in the Columbus area for low-income renters. About 800 people are on a waiting list for low-income housing through the city’s housing authority, for example. The lack of affordable housing presents a problem for those with disabilities and senior citizens on fixed incomes, too.
The income factor doesn’t come as a surprise considering about 44 percent of students in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. qualify for free and reduced lunches. But it underscores larger issues of education and skill attainment needed to secure jobs that pay higher wages.
For a community that prides itself on wanting to be the best of its size in the country, affordable housing and related income issues in Columbus are troubling and leave the community short of its goal.
It is heartening to see that city officials have made affordable housing a greater focus in the past few years, which has resulted in some developers creating more affordable units in the city. For example, Ashford Park Apartments on the former Golden Castings Foundry site will add more than 200 apartments next year. That will chip away at the problem some, but not enough.
Having a home — whether rented or owned — is a bedrock element in the lives of individuals and families. Unfortunately for too many renters in Columbus, the cost is overwhelming, which impacts other aspects of their lives.
This is an issue that is multifaceted, doesn’t have a quick fix and will require both diligence and collaboration among city officials and other local stakeholders to resolve. But it’s one that must remain high on their radar because it impacts residents’ quality of life, and the city’s reputation as a whole.