VALPARAISO — A group of residents and local clergy pressed the City Council this week to do something about the cost of housing in the city.
They implored the council to show leadership and stop calling the issue "complicated" or establishing another committee to look at what they feel is a housing problem.
"Younger people are being priced out of homes in Valparaiso," said resident Drew Wenger, a real estate appraiser.
The Rev. John Albers, a member of the city's advisory Human Relations Council, praised the council for taking action on projects such as the downtown revitalization, but said they are falling short on addressing affordable housing in the city.
"The key is setting your mind to something. When the leadership sets its mind to solving a problem, it gets solved," Albers said, challenging council members to treat the issue like they did the downtown revitalization and not wait.
Council member Trista Hudson, R-at-large, said, speaking for Mayor Jon Costas, who was absent from Monday's meeting, the mayor has been considering a plan to address the issue, the plan is in its infancy and it should be made public in the next few months.
Personally, she told the crowd in the council chambers, she didn't see it as an issue, saying in her neighborhood, she could "hit six or seven houses with a softball" that are for sale and are affordable.
Albers also presented a letter signed by nearly 30 local clergy members supporting the 2014 ValpNEXT Vision Plan, which recommended ensuring affordable shelter and facilitating new downtown housing in addition to a 2016 Altogether Valpo housing subcommittee which also offered recommendations.
"New housing currently being built is beyond the means of the heart of our city — people working full time and shaping our community — even teachers and police," the letter read in part.
The Rev. Timothy Leitzke, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, told the council that Valparaiso is "too expensive for anyone who serves us."
The Rev. Erica Gibson-Even, pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, said many of her parishioners are working 75 to 80 hours a week, "cleaning our homes, serving us at restaurants" and can't afford to live in the city.
The Rev. Richard Schmidt, pastor of Living Hope Community Church, said many of his members are struggling while being fully employed. He said it is not only home ownership, but affordable rent in the city.
Resident Paul Schreiner said one issue is to define "affordable housing."
He said another issue is the community must have the desire to address and resolve the issue, adding he has a "sense" they don't want to find that resolution.
Councilman Matt Murphy, R-3rd, who announced his run for mayor next year, said he believes the Altogether Valpo report did not indicate a need and that there were two contradictory reports on the issue.
His potential opponent, council member Debora Porter, D-at-large, included affordable housing as part of her platform when she announced her candidacy just hours before Monday night's council meeting. She said she believes the issue needs to be addressed and can be resolved.