November 17, 2016 By Lyndy Berryhill for The Daily Mississippian
University of Mississippi professors are teaming up with students and county officials to help solve low-income housing issues in Oxford.
Sociology professor James Thomas will teach “Affordable Housing in Oxford, MS” as a spring honors course. The class will study housing issues, poverty and compile in-depth statistics on Lafayette County.
Thomas said the students will work with local officials and the Center for Population Studies to design a survey and collect information.
“Most of the data the county has to work with is secondary census data, which is accurate, but the census data cannot provide some of the smaller details,” Thomas said.
Thomas said more in-depth household surveys will illustrate the shades of poverty within incomes and socioeconomic statuses.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 26 percent of the population is living in poverty. From 2010 to 2015, the population has increased more than 12 percent, but the thousands of housing units being built are not meant for low-income families.
The class data will go deeper than identifying how many economically insecure families and students are in the area by also identifying the factors of each family, Thomas said.
The class will also research poverty and housing issues that impact Ole Miss students in particular.
According to the Hechinger Report, the percentage of students qualifying for Federal Pell Grants, reserved for families with incomes of $40,000 or less, is up by almost a third since 2008, to 49 percent of undergraduates.
The idea for the class topic arose from a conversation with County Supervisor Kevin Frye.
“An in-depth analysis of our housing issues is the logical next step before we begin to discuss and propose policies that can help members of our community,” Frye said.
Frye said the county is trying to understand what the data can tell about housing insecurity for the residents of our community.
“Before we can adopt policies to address housing insecurity, we must first have a clear understanding of the factors that contribute to the problem,” Frye said. “If you understand the underlying data, you can target policy proposals specifically to those factors and ultimately be more successful in solving the problem.”
Frye said the county has a large percentage of people who come to work every day do not live in Lafayette County.
“We are fortunate to have a low unemployment rate in our community, but we do know that if we were able to reduce the distance necessary for people to travel to work, we would improve productivity for employers,” Frye said.
Frye said it could be that housing prices are driving out the working class.
John Green, professor of sociology, director of the UM Center for Population Studies and the Society and Health minor, said the challenges of finding low-income housing vary depending on the region and community on which the focus lies.
The Center for Population Studies engages in outreach, education and research to help people use demographic, social and economic data to inform decision making.
“In some places, it is a matter of too few options for rental housing, while in others it could be that the price of housing for purchase is too high relative to incomes in the area,” Green said. “This kind of variation is part of the reason why it is so important to do studies in specific communities and develop plans accordingly.”
Green said in terms of population and development, the City of Oxford is growing substantially, and there are the additional demands for housing given the university.
Green said this includes housing for students, faculty and staff, as well as people who work at the wide range of businesses providing goods and services. He said that a lot of the available housing for home buyers and renters is not affordable for lower-income individuals and families.
The class will begin in January and will have a complete body of research by May 2017.
Frye said he is anticipating the research being complete so elected officials can begin making policy changes that will improve the quality of life for low-income families.