Messy Bowling Green housing impacts WKU community

Louisville senior Jay Wells has experienced issues finding an affordable place to live in Bowling Green as rent costs soar. “If you’re a working class person and you’re living in an area in which the college is constantly expanding, rent’s going up, you have to have a roommate, and deposits are so high. It’s pretty miserable when it comes to trying to find a place to live” Wells said.

Nicole Ziege

After journalism professor-in-residence Andrea Billups was hired to teach at WKU in early August, she needed to move quickly from Florida to Bowling Green for her new position.

Billups and her partner, Steve Miller, found a modern, reasonably priced condominium to rent in Bowling Green and signed the lease. They hired movers to transport their belongings and packed up two cars with their 93-pound black labrador in tow.

However, upon reaching the condo, Billups received the news it would not be ready for another month due to ongoing construction. She found herself with nowhere to live.

“It became a nightmare after that,” Billups said. 

Billups found lodging at a local yet expensive Airbnb and stayed there until the end of fall. After looking at 14 homes and apartments, various offers fell through because of their larger dog, while other places were in bad shape or overpriced. Billups said she finally gave up.

“The city didn’t offer us very much in terms of a short-term rental,” Billups said. “For my first semester, it really took away from me being able to teach properly, because I was having to spend so much time looking for places that were doable.”

In the spring, Billups and Miller started renting from a WKU faculty member who was going to teach abroad. She said she has been unable to move her belongings from home out of storage and described the situation as being one of utter frustration.

“It’s been very disheartening and left a bad taste in my mouth,” Billups said. On Dec. 17, 2018, TIME Money published a story listing the best places to live in each state. For Kentucky, TIME listed Bowling Green as number one in accordance with the following criteria: median household income and median home listing price.

However, many WKU students and faculty have stories similar to Billups’ and have struggled in finding sustainable housing in Bowling Green.

Louisville native and WKU senior Jay Wells grew up in a middle-class background, and they did not expect to struggle with paying for their housing when they attended WKU in Fall 2015. However, within the past two years, Wells found themselves living in four or five different places and experiencing homelessness, which they said has completely affected their life.

Due to on-campus university housing being too expensive, Wells searched for off-campus apartments. To apply for an apartment, Wells needed to give their credit history or the credit history of their parent or co-signer. As Wells had to leave a tense home situation, they said they could not sign their parents onto the lease. Wells also did not have credit history and did not have someone to co-sign.

“The experience of a student with a parent or co-signer is vastly different than students in poverty living on their own,” Wells said. 

Another obstacle they found was the required security deposit, which was between $800 and $1,000. The security deposit serves as assurance to the landlord that the apartment will be inhabited for a set period of time and normally also serves as a damage deposit, according to the Kentucky attorney general. Wells said they could not afford the security deposits, which made it difficult to find a place to live.

With no set address, Wells said they experienced food insecurity last year because they were unable to receive an ID in order to go to a food bank. Also, Wells said their lack of sustainable housing put a strain on their schooling at WKU.

Without a permanent address, Wells said a student’s FAFSA is unable to go through properly, making it difficult for a student to work on campus or apply for Federal Pell Grants or other financial student aid.

For dependent students, a FAFSA, the free application for federal student aid, requires parental information regarding federal income tax returns, bank statements, records of investments and records of untaxed income. If a student cannot use a parent’s information, the FAFSA can still be submitted, but it will be considered incomplete. The student must go to the financial aid office to verify the student’s situation, according to FAFSA.

During the summer of 2017, Wells said they were couch-hopping, often living at places for three days at a time. Throughout the past two years, they moved in temporarily with their ex-girlfriend and friends in order to survive, only being able to sign onto a lease between January and August 2018.

Wells said having to move in with their friends and ex-girlfriend put constant pressure on their relationships.

“I felt like a parasite,” Wells said. “Being off the lease, you’re living completely on the edge. You’re in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. [My ex-girlfriend and friends] risked their housing and thousands of dollars to keep me alive by giving me shelter. I would not be alive if it wasn’t for that courtesy.”

Wells, who now lives off the lease in an apartment with their best friend, has had to sell all of their belongings to pay rent. Working at WKU Libraries, Wells said about $300 out of a monthly $400 paycheck goes to paying for rent.

“Housing is not a universal right in Bowling Green,” Wells said. “It is literally a human need. We need to start treating it as such.”

Wells said because they are gay and transgender, they can be evicted not only because of being off the lease but also because of any suspicions they are part of the LGBTQ community.

Bowling Green is the largest city in Kentucky without a Fairness Ordinance. Without it, anyone in Bowling Green can be legally discriminated against in housing, employment and other public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Only 10 cities in Kentucky have passed a Fairness Ordinance, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories to existing civil rights laws. Maysville became the tenth Kentucky city to pass the ordinance on Aug. 9, 2018, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

In addition to many supporting the passage of a Fairness Ordinance, there are many students and advocates pushing for an increase in renters’ rights overall in Bowling Green.

Francisco Serrano, WKU senior and vice president of the WKU Student Coalition for renters’ Rights, said he has seen issues arise between renters and their landlords, including delays in maintenance repairs and random inspections by landlords without notice.

Although renters have a right to privacy, landlords have a right to enter an apartment or house to make repairs, provide maintenance or show property to prospective renters or buyers, according to the Kentucky attorney general’s rental housing protections.

Serrano said he has also talked to student renters who experienced discrimination from landlords against them for being part of the LGBTQ community.

“If they have a grudge against the student, they can walk in, suspect that you’re gay and can evict you without notice,” Serrano said.

Due to the lack of renter’s rights in Bowling Green, Serrano said there is no required or standard time for a landlord to provide an eviction notice. He said he has seen renters be evicted and given their notice to move off the property within 24 to 48 hours.

Serrano said Bowling Green is also the biggest city in Kentucky that has not adopted the Uniform Landlord Tenant Act, which clarifies the legal duties of landlords and tenants entering into residential lease agreements. Lexington, Louisville and Somerset are among several cities in Kentucky that have already adopted the act, according to Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. 

“We want to raise awareness to these issues,” Serrano said. “There are no protections for renters. The landlords can do whatever they like. If there were housing policies in place that we were to follow, we could avoid all these issues.”

News reporter Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.