Kentucky governor unveils rental housing projects for region still recovering from 2021 tornadoes

Published 2:36 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2024

FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that a rental housing shortage has gnawed at him since the recovery began from a terrifying tornado outbreak that hit western parts of the state in late 2021.

The Bluegrass State took an unprecedented step toward alleviating the chronic shortfall on Monday, when the Democratic governor unveiled plans to build 953 rental housing units in four of the region’s counties: Christian, Graves, Hopkins and Warren.

“To help a town not just survive but to thrive, affordable housing is so critical,” Beshear said. “And for all those survivors that might not have owned their home, that might not have qualified for certain FEMA or other insurance funding, there was a gap. And admittedly, it was a gap that kept me up at night.”

The $223 million project resulted from a collaboration between the state’s housing finance agency, the Kentucky Housing Corp., and the state Department for Local Government. The funds come from KHC and from the state’s disaster recovery program, administered by the local government department. It will be the single largest housing development project undertaken by either agency, the governor’s office said.

Winston Miller, KHC’s executive director and CEO, called it an “unprecedented effort” to support disaster recovery and increase access to affordable housing in western Kentucky.

The funding will flow to private developers who will build apartment complexes, with units made available to moderate- and low-income families. Rents will be kept affordable, and most units will have 2-3 bedrooms, with a mix of 4-bedroom and single-bedroom units, Beshear’s office said.

Construction is expected to begin no later than spring of 2025, his office said. Once construction comes closer to completion, eligible Kentuckians will be able to apply to lease the apartments.

In hard-hit Mayfield, 122 rental units will be built. The Graves County town took a direct hit from the December 2021 tornado. The massive storm uprooted the lives of some of the town’s “most vulnerable,” who continue to struggle, said Mayor Kathy O’Nan, who joined Beshear for the announcement.

“These units will house individuals and families who have suffered enough, and who have continued to stay in Mayfield and continue to help us rebuild that community,” the mayor said.

The funding will support 11 projects in the four counties. Fast-growing Bowling Green will receive the largest share of rental units — 635, the governor said. Elsewhere, Dawson Springs will get 88 units, Hopkinsville will get 76 and Madisonville will get 32, he said.

Another twister hit an area of Hopkins County during Memorial Day weekend, sweeping through an area of Barnsley that was pounded by the 2021 tornado outbreak.

Beshear said Monday that more rental units also are needed to keep up with housing demands stemming from the state’s record-setting economic development growth.

Much of his time as governor has gone toward leading the state’s recovery from staggering weather disasters — the western Kentucky tornadoes followed by massive flooding in eastern Kentucky. The tornado outbreak in late 2021 killed 81 people in Kentucky and caused extensive damage.

On Monday, Beshear recalled his vow to rebuild every life as he surveyed tornado damage.

“We have been hard at work fulfilling that promise since that day,” the governor said Monday. ”We will be there until this job is done.”

Beshear has attended ceremonies where keys to new houses were handed to families left homeless by the tornadoes. A relief fund set up by the governor has helped build new homes. As a result, more than 200 have been built, are under construction or have been approved for construction to begin.

Meanwhile, the recovery continues in portions of eastern Kentucky that were inundated by massive flooding in the summer of 2022. Beshear has announced a series of housing projects in the region, with more projects expected to be announced, his office said.