Hundreds gathered for CLOUT's semi-annual meeting. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Hundreds gathered for CLOUT’s semi-annual meeting. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Several hundred of churchgoers gathered Tuesday evening in Memorial Auditorium on South Fourth Street to talk about reliable transportation, affordable housing and predatory payday lending practices.

The event was hosted by faith-based activist organization CLOUT (Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together), which holds semi-annual meetings to address topics it believes need more attention. The attendees came from all over Louisville, from the Highlands, California, Hikes Point, Chickasaw, Shively and other neighborhoods.

“We do this to make these issues unavoidable,” said the Rev. Bill Burks, pastor at St. John Paul II Catholic Church on Hikes Lane.

Religious leaders encouraged audience members to clap for the government officials in attendance if they agreed to various “clear and feasible solutions” CLOUT created to help address problems and remain silent to show disappointment if they did not.

“We are not going to boo. We are not going to yell. We are not going to be disrespectful,” Burks said.

Reliable transportation

The Rev. Reginald Barnes of Brown Memorial CME Church at West Chestnut and South Eighth streets kicked off the topics by detailing struggles some Louisville residents face trying to get to work at Jefferson Riverport International.

The business park is located along the Greenbelt Highway in southwest Louisville, and Barnes noted that people have lost jobs at Riverport because of a lack of reliable transportation. Some have had to walk or bike to work because they don’t have a car and they can’t catch a bus at the time they need.

With more reliable transportation to Riverport, Barnes argued that currently unemployed workers could more easily find work, which will allow them to pay for housing, possibly a car and other goods.

As part of the speech, Barnes asked TARC, the Transit Authority of River City, to create a plan in the next 60 days for how the bus system intends to improve transportation to and from Riverport.

Aida Copic, director of planning for TARC, agreed to do so, inciting applause.

TARC representatives have met with businesses at Riverport to talk about transportation solutions in the past, Copic said. In early 2015, TARC adjusted some schedules to accommodate people who work late night or early morning shifts.

“After that time, we really did not hear too many complaints,” Copic said. “We understand there is probably a need for more service, an ongoing need in many places in the community.”

However, bus trips to areas near the outskirts of Louisville, where many business parks are located, are costly. Copic said the transit authority has been lobbying in Frankfort for funding to help improve and expand its services.

“We’ve continually worked on improving service as resources allow,” Kay Stewart, TARC’s director of marketing, later told Insider Louisville. A major focus for the authority currently is the planning and implementation of the Dixie Highway do-over project.

Affordable housing

CLOUT has long rallied around the cause of building more middle-income and low-income housing in Louisville. In January, protesters with the organization stood outside the groundbreaking of the $300 million Omni Hotel, which will include high-priced apartments, to draw attention to what they say is a lack of investment in affordable housing.

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9

During the meeting, Metro Councilman Bill Hollander (D-9) agreed to strongly advocate that Metro Government dedicate $5 million in funding to the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund in its 2017 fiscal year budget.

The trust fund has received $1.5 million from the city since its inception in 2008.

“We don’t want the trust fund to go another year without any funding,” said CLOUT co-president Beverly Duncan.

When Duncan asked the audience how many of them knew someone affected by the lack of affordable housing, at least three-fourths of the audience stood.

CLOUT member Shatori Hall said she is forced to work two jobs to pay for housing and food for her and her son and at times has had to decide whether to pay bills or buy food and diapers.

If there was more affordable housing, Hall said she wouldn’t have to work two jobs and could spend more time with her son.

“The sooner we can get this trust fund funded the better off families like mine would be,” she said.

Hollander, who sits on the trust fund’s board, said CLOUT members will need to fight for the allocation.

“Be prepared to say, if you believe it, that affordable housing is just as important to you as cracks in your street,” he told attendees, adding that if the city can shell out nearly $10 million to the KFC Yum! Center each year, it can surely invest in affordable housing.

The city last year dedicated $12 million to a new initiative called Louisville Creating Affordable Residences for Economic Success, or Louisville CARES, which Hollander did mention, but he said it wasn’t enough.

“But it’s a start, and it’s a good start, and it happened because of your support to this important initiative,” he said.

Payday lending

Eliciting groans from the crowd, Louisville resident Della Weaver told the story of how she ended up in bankruptcy.

Weaver couldn’t afford to pay her bills, and friends suggested that she take out a payday loan, which can carry an interest rate of 400 percent, according to U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. When it came time to pay off the loan, Weaver couldn’t afford both the loan payment and her bills, so she took out additional loans to cover those costs.

Even after filling bankruptcy, Weaver said the lenders continued to call her asking for payments and took money out of her bank account.

Leaders with CLOUT said they believe payday lenders should be held to standards like credit card companies, banks and other entities that typically have interest rates of 30 percent or less.

“Stop giving the payday lending industry an exemption from the usury law,” which limits loan interest rates, said Jimmy Mills with Mosaic United Methodist Church on St. Andrews Church Road.

State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington) introduced a bill to the Kentucky General Assembly this session that if passed would severely limit how much interest payday lenders can charge on their loans. The bill would hold payday loan interest rates to a maximum of 36 percent and eliminate the service fee payday lenders charge.

CLOUT encouraged Sen. Julie Raque Adams (D-Louisville) to co-sponsor the bill, which she has done. Adams also is working with her fellow senators to get the bill a reading. It currently is in the state senate’s banking and insurance committee.

Although unable to attend the meeting, Adams also committed to working on a bill to regulate flexible loans.

Flex loan companies tout themselves as better than payday loans, but interest rates for flex loans are more than 400 percent. One flex loan company website IL found charges Ohio residents 788 percent for a 14-day loan.

A state bill introduced by House Majority Whip Jimmy Bell (D-Glasgow) would regulate how flex loan companies operate in Kentucky.

The bill, which has not been heard in committee, sets the periodic interest rate at as much as 24 percent interest. It does not clarify what the bill means by periodic; however, in the loan world, that traditionally refers to the amount of interest charged per day.

The bill also permits the lenders to charge a fee on “a daily, monthly, or other periodic basis, to defray the ordinary costs of opening, administering, and terminating a flex loan plan.”