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Michael Jones: Hello, this is Michael MJ. I'm with the Metro Housing Coalition in University of Louisville's Unfair Housing Oral history Project. It is June 30 at 2 o'clock and I'm interviewing VernĂ¡ VG, Executive Director of Louisville Metro Government's Human Relations Commission. How are you doing today?

Verna Goatley: I'm fine, thank you, Michael, for having me on.

MJ: All right, and so this project is about housing, and so I wanted to ask like how old are you and where did you grow up?

VG: Well, I'm a senior. (Laughs) I'll just leave it as that. I have lived all 1:00over the United States and Europe. My father was in the military so I've moved around, but I did graduate high school here in Louisville, Kentucky. Thomas Jefferson High School at the time. It's out on Rangeland Road. So I've been here a while.

MJ: So where is some of the places you went to school before you came to Louisville?

VG: On the East Coast in Baltimore, several different school districts there. California, I was in school districts there. And then, my father did a tour in Europe and we were there for almost three years.

MJ: And so, what were your impressions of Louisville when you first moved to the city?

VG: I didn't want to come here. We had had a bad experience traveling through here.

(Phone ringing)


That's all right. We had had a bad experience traveling through here as military people do. You become very family related and some good friends of ours that we had connected with in California had moved to Fort Knox. We came through here to visit with them on our way back to the East Coast.

I remember their daughter being a senior at Fort Knox High School and how the black and brown students were not allowed to go to the prom. I remember that, and I just thought that was horrible that they had to do their own, you know, kind of recreational things. So when my dad informed us that we were coming to Fort Knox, I cried and wanted to stay in Baltimore with my grandparents.

MJ: How big a family did you have? Did you have siblings?

VG: I have a sister and two brothers, there's four of us.


MJ: Okay, and where do you fall in that?VG: I'm the oldest.

MJ: Okay., and so what part of the city did you live in when you moved to Louisville?

VG: We were at Fort Knox for a couple of years and I went to school there on post. And then, my family moved in the Newburg area and that's where I went to high school.

MJ: Uh-huh. And did you enjoy living in Newburg?

VG: Yes, well it became nice. Some of the people that I had met with in Fort Knox transitioned over to Newburg area somewhere in the Valley Station area, and 4:00so that was welcoming, that friends that I had made on post that I was able to continue those friendships.

And the promise my father--that I had asked my parents will you stay somewhere stationary for a period of time so I can graduate school with people that I know. Because through my life, I had been transferred from school to school, and most of the time it happened during the middle of a school year. So sometimes I didn't even get to finish out a school year without getting transferred to another school.

MJ: So was your father still in the military when you graduated high school?

VG: No, as a matter of fact, my father is a war veteran of Vietnam. He was killed in--prior to me graduating high school.

MJ: So after you graduate high school, what led you to remain in Louisville?

VG: I end up marrying somebody that was originally from Louisville that couldn't 5:00see past Jefferson County. So that's what kept me here. And then after I divorced, it was like I was doing things professionally, connected with the community, and have a lot of good friends that's like family that's here. So I'm still here.

MJ: Okay, and where did you go to college?

VG: I was a non-traditional student cause I worked during the day and went to college at night, but I have an associate's degree from JCC which is now JCTC. I also have a bachelor's degree from Bellarmine University, and then I went 6:00through a graduate program with Webster University.

MJ: And so what's been your housing experience in Louisville? Did you have any kind of issues in any of the places you've lived here?

VG: Basically they have been okay until probably about--within this last year. I am a homeowner and I live in West Louisville. I'm trying to do some updates to the property, and I went out to start seeking financial support in order to do that and was kind of blindsided when some things start coming back to me.

Because I look at myself as being a model citizen, homeowner, full-time job, 7:00been on the job over 20 years, make a decent salary, and should be able to qualify to do whatever I need to do. And it wasn't like I was asking for a lot of money, but something to help me through these update projects that I was trying to do and to get blindsided by a bank that I have been a customer of for over 20 years to say that I didn't check all the boxes.

MJ: And what were some of the things that came back to you? Was it just property values or--

VG: A lot of it is--it's property value and it's so strange cause the same type of house that I lived in in West Louisville you could pick it up and put it in 8:00the middle of St. Matthews, and my property value would probably triple.

And for it being located in West Louisville and the redlining of things that have happened in the community and stuff, and how they have devalued our property to where most people are in situations that they can't get the financial support to help them do things that they're wanting to do.

MJ: And so what neighborhood are you in in West Louisville?

VG: Shawnee.

MJ: Okay, the Shawnee neighborhood, and a lot of the houses there are older and very nice--

VG: Right.

MJ: Large houses, so.

VG: Yeah, I mean they're older homes they have good foundation, good bones to the house, but over the years you had need some updating and lighting with electrical issues or plumbing issues. And I'm just trying to kind of fix up the place in order to be able to live comfortably.


MJ: And so did they give you--the bank give you any alternatives? Or did you have to seek other places to get the money you needed?

VG: The bank didn't give me any alternative. It was sort of like, I'm sorry you didn't qualify. Maybe next time and all of that. And so I just went about my merry way to do what I want to get done.

But then, in just talking to some different people and realizing more about the program at LHOME, I reached out and had a conversation with one of the people there cause I was thinking you had to income qualify to be a client of their 10:00program. And found out no, but I lived in the right zip code to be a part of that program. And so I went that route and was able to get what I needed in order to continue on with my project.

MJ: You mentioned redlining, do you feel in some ways the neighborhood is still redlined?

VG: I think so. I think so. It's really upsetting to me that I constantly get a lot of spam calls. I've had notices sent to my home. I've even had people knocking on my door about--inquiring about selling my property and everything. And I've never reached out to anybody to say that I was looking to sell my property. But our neighborhood is getting inundated with those type of inquiries.


And then it's also disheartening sometimes when service people come to your home and they look at you and first thing they start looking around the house, it's like, "Oh, this is nice." I'm like, "How do you expect that, you know, we live?" It's like it's shocking that they come into a decent looking home in West Louisville and stuff so it's really kind of mind boggling from time to time.

MJ: Is that something that you realized that's unique to Louisville, or did you notice it in other places that you lived?

VG: I know it's in other cities, but I'm a resident here and I'm very aware because I'm out in the community a lot and I'm all over the city. I just notice 12:00things. Things are noticeable. I remember I've been in my home 20 plus years and when I was looking, I had a white female realtor that was assisting me in my search. And I had given her my checkoffs of what I was looking for in a home.

And basically she was telling me, "Well I can get you something really, really nice if you go out to Fern Creek, J-Town, what have you. And I told her that's not where I want to be. I want to stay in West Louisville and told her, "You work with me and I'll work with you." And basically I found the house and called and told her about it and stuff, and when she was looking it up, she said, "Well it's not coming up in the system."

I said, "I don't know about your system, but I know there's a sign in front of 13:00the house and this is the information on the sign." So sure enough, no, the real estate company had not put the house in the system so I end up looking at the house and putting a contract on it before it got in the system.

MJ: And is that because they had just gone on sale? Or do you think that they just didn't look at houses in the area where you want to be?

VG: Well I know that--it was a timing issue. The people that came out and put the sign out and they still hadn't gone through the process of what they needed to do in order to get it listing in the system.

MJ: And so, have you had neighbors that have experienced the same problems getting money to update their homes in your neighborhood?

VG: No, we have had problems with, what do you call it, the process--appraisals. 14:00We have had problems with appraisals. I know I've spoke with other neighbors and things of that sort. Some of the people in the neighborhood have been able to get some of the--qualify for some of the other programs that are out there that they have done some updates on their homes.

So I know with that, but I know appraisal wise, our houses still do appraise low in the neighborhood, which I know that is a problem as you're going through trying to get financing or what have you.

MJ: I talked to someone else recently who--the city just reassessed all the property taxes, and she said that her property value went down $6,000. Did you 15:00experience that too?

VG: Right, right.

MJ: And so do you think this is a systematic thing that is going--is there a problem with the system? Or is it specific companies--financial institutions? What do you see as the way forward to solve this problem for homeowners like you?

VG: Well being that I was in banking prior to me coming to Metro, I know that these banks set up profiles of who their customer should be. It's sort of like you have to check all the boxes in order to be--to qualify as the customer with certain programs that they have. I remember that from way back when.


So I mean it's just the thing and you got now, most of our banks here have national offices somewhere else. So you've got people in another city, another part of the United States that are making decisions on who should be customers in a market that they're located in.

MJ: So how long were you in banking?

VG: I was in banking for like 17 years or so.

MJ: Okay. And what position did you hold, or what area?

VG: I started out front line teller, and when I left, I was assistant vice president in the trust and investment group.

MJ: Okay, so you didn't deal a lot with the real estate, but you know how it works? Is that--

VG: Right, and plus I've been working in economic development for a number of 17:00years. So it all kind of coincides together with paying attention on what's going on out there in the finance world.

MJ: There had been a lot of talk about revitalizing West Louisville, especially the Russell neighborhoods. What's your feelings about that? The way that it's happening? Do you feel it's favoring developers?

VG: Anything to help revitalize our neighborhoods would be very good because we have a lot of blighted property in West Louisville throughout the different neighborhoods. A lot of vacant abandoned homes, places that have not been kept up. I'm having some concern about the new tax, TIF program that they are talking 18:00about on the news. About what they're talking to do in the nine West End neighborhood locations and stuff that.

I don't feel the public is really been educated into how it might affect them as a property owner or as a renter in these communities and stuff. And I feel like they need to be more upfront about how they educate people about what's happening.

What you see in West Louisville is a lot of seniors that own their homes. When you get to a senior level, you basically on a fixed income per se. And these people have worked hard to purchase their homes. A lot of them have paid for their homes and just trying to stay there, and you put these other financial constraints on them and that may be an issue for them to be able to live comfortably.


MJ: What kind of changes would you like to see made in the programs that--revitalization programs that--things that would help you, specifically? (Laughs)

VG: For the programs that are out there, be more user-friendly, advertise--let people know what's available. Because I have that advantage because I'm here at Metro and I hear a lot, I'm involved in a lot, so I know about different programs and stuff. I refer people to them all the time and everything, so we got to be more transparent in what we have out there.


Even with codes and regulations, I know people get cited from time to time about a violation on their property or whatever, but in the midst of that person doing that, it would be nice in a customer-friendly kind of way to say but the city has a program that might can help you in taking care of this code violation or something. We just have to be more user-friendly and more transparent in what we have.

MJ: Okay, and can you tell me a little bit about LHOME? You said you found them yourself and they helped you?

VG: Yeah, we had a conversation and I told them what I was wanting to do. And they were like perfect situation. I had to--I started with my application 21:00process. I had to give them a lot of different documentation.

They were very hands-on technical assistant wise in helping me--if they asked for something, I didn't understand, I was able to pick up the phone, asked a question, got them the information, but the process seemed to work out very nicely. And next thing I know, I was approved and got what I needed in order to continue my project.

MJ: And so overall, are you happy with the Shawnee community?

VG: Yes, I like where I live. I know my neighbors. I know my neighbors. We look out for each other. It's so funny because just a couple of weeks ago, my neighbors and I, we were together socializing. And I had talked about this long 22:00laundry list of things that I had to do for the weekend.

By Sunday, my neighbor noticed my car hadn't moved. She called and she said, "Are you okay? I know you said you had some things going on, but I don't think I've seen your car move." And it was sort of like, "Yeah, I'm fine. I just decided I wasn't going to do those things so I stayed home." "Do you need anything?" "No, I'm good."

So I mean, we have that type of relationship within our neighborhood. That we know what's going on. And it's so funny, even when I was looking at the house, they came out of the house. People were coming out of the house and, "You looking to move there"? and stuff, they asked questions and stuff. So yeah, we're that kind of neighborhood.

MJ: So growing up, how long did you live in Newburg?

VG: (Exclamation) All through high school and a little past high school. And I 23:00still visit out there. I've still got friends and folks out there.

MJ: Was it different when you moved to Shawnee then your experience in Newburg?

VG: No because even there, we were in a neighborhood that we all knew each other. Funny over the years, some of the people that were neighbors where I lived at out there in Newburg, we have kept in touch over these years. So yeah, we still had those kind of relationships/friendships knowing.

MJ: So you consider the home you're in now your forever home, I guess? Since you have--

VG: Well, until I decide I don't want to be there anymore. (Laughs) Yeah, it's 24:00good and it's--I think it's a place--that's why I'm trying to get some work done. Because things need to be updated after a while and stuff. You can only do so much painting or this and that. You might want to tear down a wall or do something a little different or what have you. But yeah, I'm satisfied.

MJ: Is there something I didn't asked you about that you wanted to talk about in this project?

VG: No, it's good that you're getting the word out there about things that are happening because people need to know that there are resources out here to help them through these different challenges that they may have.

And just because you can check all the boxes don't mean that you can always get what you need. You sometimes have to go an extra mile. The funny thing that's 25:00happening to me now, every time I turn around, that same banker is calling me, "Is it anything I can do for you? Things have changed a little better and we'd be able to work with you now." But I don't need you to work with me now. I'm fine.

MJ: And what do you think has changed?

VG: (Laughs) I don't know. Maybe they done heard--or felt that I've been talking about it cause I tell the story to a lot of different people about just because you check all the boxes don't mean you always qualify. I'm just as qualified as somebody that lives in one of the other zip codes. (Laughs)

MJ: All right, well that's all the questions I had for you.


VG: Okay.