Campus News

Initiative focuses on housing supply, access in Kentucky

Arden Barnes l UK Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 14, 2024) — Kentucky is adding thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic opportunities. But a critical challenge remains the supply of, and access to, affordable housing.

That challenge is the focus of the University of Kentucky’s Housing Engagement and Research Initiative (HERI), which was announced during UK’s meeting of the Board of Trustees. 

“A regional approach is necessary to address our housing needs,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and UK’s vice president for land-grant engagement. “If Kentucky is to maximize its significant opportunities for economic growth, we must find ways to increase the supply of affordable housing at all levels of income throughout the state. That means research and collaboration with partners across the state, which is exactly what HERI will do.” 

The initiative is one key result from Project Accelerate, five work groups focused on approaches and plans for how UK can accelerate its progress in advancing the state. HERI is the product of work done by Work Group 3, a team from across the campus that has been examining how to grow and sustain university partnerships with governments, communities and nonprofits to address significant issues. 

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton and Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg have written letters of support for HERI. The goal is to support local governments, developers and communities in creating strategies that will assist in housing supply, access and affordability. 

The work group, which reported on its progress to trustees this week, was cofacilitated by Cox and Rob Edwards, vice president and chief strategy and growth officer at UK HealthCare. Other initiatives Work Group 3 was engaged in and that were recently announced include the acquisition of St. Claire Healthcare in Morehead as well as a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to help create better pathways for students to transfer to UK. 

Alison Davis, a professor of agricultural economics at UK and a nationally regarded expert in community development and housing issues, will lead HERI and work with experts across campus as well as local governments to research issues such as housing affordability, demographic trends and neighborhood development. 

“Many places across Kentucky are now realizing that the workforce shortages that have limited economic potential are directly tied to the availability of affordable housing, including both rental and owner-occupied units,” Davis said. “Kentucky has a unique opportunity to capitalize on future growth, but the strategies must be research-informed, collaborative and regional.” 

“The board — and our work group — has heard from leaders from throughout the state that access to affordable, quality housing is an issue across incomes and in virtually every Kentucky community,” Edwards said. “As we grow UK’s workforce, and as Kentucky seizes economic opportunities, a thoughtful, strategic approach to growing the supply of and enhancing access to housing is essential. That’s part of what we must to do accelerate our progress in advancing Kentucky.” 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.