Andrew Bradley: What will Holcomb choose his housing legacy to be?

Andrew Bradley

Bradley Andrew

With barely six months left in office and the nominees for his replacement already chosen, some might consider Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb a lame duck. However, housing is one area where he can still choose what his legacy will be.

Holcomb has taken several significant steps on housing during his time in office, including the creation and funding of the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI), of which roughly one-third of requests have been for affordable and workforce housing. The governor also deserves credit for creating Indiana’s first Emergency Rental Assistance program, which kept tens of thousands of Hoosier families housed and their landlords solvent during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Despite these steps, further executive action is needed to fill the gap left by the General Assembly to address Indiana’s worsening shortage of safe, healthy and affordable homes accessible to the most vulnerable Hoosiers. The legislature has failed to act on their own Housing Task Force’s recommendation to “support addressing substandard housing” and to increase housing supply that is affordable for the communities seeing the greatest gaps. Holcomb can still take matters into his own hands and not allow deference to the legislature’s inaction to define his own housing legacy.

Facts are facts: Indiana’s housing outcomes for the most vulnerable Hoosiers have declined in recent years. According to a recent study, with only 34 affordable and available rental units for every 100 of the most vulnerable Hoosier households, Indiana has a lower rate of supply than the national average, and second lowest rate in the Midwest. About 76% of those households spend more than half of their income on housing expenses, the highest rate in the Midwest. Over the past decade, Hoosiers’ housing costs have risen, homeownership has decreased, and disparities have grown, especially for seniors, Black and brown Hoosiers, and low-income working families.

Because of this shortage and rising costs, an increasing proportion of Hoosiers are now housing unstable. They make do with inadequate housing that they cannot afford, subjecting themselves and their children to the risk of eviction and homelessness.

Indiana’s lack of safe and affordable housing damages the state’s public health outcomes and affects the physical and mental well-being of Hoosiers, the education and development of children, the employability of adults, and confounds efforts to build a thriving state economy.

Indiana’s patchwork of codes for health and safety standards related to rental housing is one unaddressed problem that contributes to and increases the danger of the state’s lack of housing supply. The failure to adequately enforce state and local housing codes jeopardizes the health and the lives of Hoosiers. In January 2024, six children died in a fire in a South Bend rental home that was reported to have failed a safety code inspection due to dangerous wiring but was allowed to be rented again before proper repairs were confirmed to have been made.

A comprehensive review of Indiana’s housing code standards and enforcement is necessary to safeguard the health and safety of Hoosiers, improve the quality of available housing, strengthen pathways to homeownership and allow Hoosiers to age in place. By appointing and convening a Commission on Housing Safety, Stability, and Affordability, Holcomb can address the state’s unresolved housing issues and promote solutions in several concrete ways:

  • Bring together representatives of state administrative agencies, courts, local governments and legislators, along with stakeholders and residents who are tackling the housing health and safety crisis on the ground;
  • Align existing housing resources and initiatives at the state and local levels, potentially saving taxpayers millions of dollars;
  • Clarify the jurisdiction of code enforcement regarding housing health and safety;
  • Coordinate administrative and court-based rules that can protect Hoosiers and expand the housing supply for communities with the greatest need without the need for legislation, and;
  • Provide a united voice to recommend new legislation where necessary.

Holcomb may not be able to see Hoosiers all the way to housing safety and stability, but he can leave the gift of a commission to guide us on the path forward. Hoosiers can join the hundreds of organizations and individuals who have already signed on to the effort to encourage Holcomb to cement a positive housing legacy.

Andrew Bradley is Policy Director for Prosperity Indiana, a statewide membership organization for individuals and organizations strengthening Hoosier communities. Prosperity Indiana represents about 1,000 community economic development practitioners from public, private, and nonprofit sectors. This commentary previously appeared at Send comments to [email protected].