Housing as a human right gets county support, a good first step, housing advisory group says

At their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved a resolution recognizing housing as a human right.

The key clause from the resolution reads: “…Monroe County joins other jurisdictions across the country in declaring housing as a human right.”

Commissioners Penny Githens and Lee Jones both voted to support of the resolution. President of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas was not able to attend the meeting to cast a vote, but Githens relayed Thomas’s support.

The resolution was put forward by the county’s affordable housing advisory commission (AHAC). At Wednesday’s meeting, Githens said, “I want to thank the affordable housing commission for their work on this. They didn’t just sit back, they kept pushing, they kept talking. They kept doing things. They’re pretty tireless.”

About the resolution, Jones said, “During this time of COVID, it’s been made so clear just how dangerous homelessness can be both for the homeless and for society.” She continued, “It is well known that the best outcomes for disadvantaged people come about when they are in stable housing.”

Attending the Wednesday meeting in support of the resolution were current AHAC chair Cathi Crabtree, and past chairs Deborah Myerson and Vauhxx Booker. It was Booker who read the resolution into the record of Wednesday’s meeting.

One measure of how long members of the AHAC have been advocating for a similar resolution is the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the last in-person meeting of the county commissioners, on March 18, 2020—before public meetings switched over to a video conferencing platform—Booker advocated during public commentary for the passage of the resolution.

But the AHAC’s work on the resolution can be traced back at least another year before that. A May 2019 draft included a “resolved” clause that would “initiate the process of developing a Housing Strategy and consider creating a staff position that will be responsible for housing policy.”

The idea of creating a county staff position responsible for housing policy is one of several elements in “resolved” clauses that did not survive in the final draft adopted by commissioners on Wednesday.

The single “resolved” clause in Wednesday’s resolution kicks out with a sentence that says, “Monroe County commits to the goal of safe, decent, healthy, sustainable, and accessible housing for all residents and to the objectives and policies that accompany said goal.”

About the evolution from the more ambitious resolution, Crabtree told The Square Beacon, “We had a lot in there that we were asking for. So we kind of just discussed it as the advisory commission and decided that the first step would be getting this on the agenda.”

Crabtree added that Wednesday’s resolution, even if it did not have “teeth” would still build public awareness and get the commissioners on board with the concept of housing as a human right. “We feel like this gives us a place to build upon,” Crabtree said.

The resolution provides a kind of platform from which to launch other initiatives, Crabtree said.

The AHAC has some momentum right now, she said, pointing to some recommendations the AHAC has made to the county plan commission about the consolidated development ordinance (CDO) that is currently under consideration. The CDO is the county government’s equivalent of Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO).

Among the AHAC’s suggestions to the county plan commission are: examine the potential of incentivized affordable housing overlay zones; use form-based code to encourage mixed-income communities; consider a small-lots option for tiny homes, or three to four “tiny homes” on a standard lot; and allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as a permitted (by-right) use.

Asked by The Square Beacon, if the adoption of a similar housing-as-a-human-right resolution by Bloomington’s city council would be useful, Booker said, “Yes.” He continued, “But it would also be hard for it not to seem like lip service, after the council rejected the homeless encampment ordinance.”

Booker was talking about an ordinance that would have provided some protections for encampments of houseless people, which failed in early March on a 4–4 vote of the Bloomington city council.

Booker added, “I think back to James Baldwin, when he said, ‘I can’t believe what you say, because i see what you do.’”

At the time when the AHAC’s resolution was conceived, Booker said, the thinking was that it would be a resolution that would also be adopted by the city of Bloomington. The May 2019 draft called for local multi-jurisdictional cooperation:

RESOLVED that Monroe County will seek to work in partnership with the City of Bloomington, Towns of Ellettsville and Stinesville, unincorporated communities in the County, and community partners to develop the Housing Strategy and address housing issues in the region.
[May 2019 draft of resolution]

Crabtree said that a similar housing-as-a-human-right resolution, if adopted by Bloomington’s city council, would be useful, even if it did not have teeth. “I think that it certainly wouldn’t hurt if the city council adopted something like this,” she said.

But Crabtree said she was not sure it would be appropriate for the county’s AHAC to push it forward. “We’re there to support the county commissioners,” Crabtree said. She added, “While the city is in the county, I don’t feel like the city government falls within our purview to make recommendations.”

It was in her role as a rank-and-file resident, Crabtree said, that she advocated for the Bloomington city council to adopt the ordinance with protections for homeless encampments.

[Note: The reporter is the husband of Mary Morgan, who is a member of Monroe County’s AHAC.]

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