We Don’t Have The Answers Because We Got The Questions All Wrong

Those familiar with my professional life and/or my campaign know that I place a heavy emphasis on affordable housing.

Why?

First – a definition:  the government defines “affordable housing” as housing for which you pay 30% of your income.  In this case, the word “affordable” means different things to different people.  “Affordable” to Katie and me is very different than “affordable” to our low-income brothers & sisters – or our very wealthy brothers & sisters.  In the case of our low-income friends, there are programs that will subsidize housing after 30% is taken from their earnings.  Often times, these earnings are quite debilitating to their livelihood, as the Federal Government has placed the poverty level for a family of four around $22,000.  Economists on the right and the left agree that, due to inflation, this level should be somewhere closer to $42,000.

This is why affordable housing agencies exist in our city – like Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Price Hill Will.

The number one cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing.  The number one cause of desperation, which leads to violent crime, is poverty.  The number one reason violent crimes are committed in Cincinnati is because of the drug trade – often concentrated in areas with high poverty rates.  The number one reason some people often turn to the drug trade for their career is lack of education.  The number one reason City Hall has been arguing over the budget is the saving of public safety jobs which help to deal, on the back end, with these debilitating issues.

This is not conspiracy, dear readers, this is fact:  if we hold our City’s affordable housing stock as a top priority then we WILL see reduction in crime, more equitable allocation of departmental funds on the administrative level, and less people in prison.  Less people in prison = lower taxes.  Everyone wins.

I have made reference to these issues in my “Economically Moral? (It Is Possible)” post, but wanted to expound on them.  You see, PLAN Cincinnati calls for 1,200 units of affordable housing in the Central Business District (CBD) alone.  When the Anna Louise Inn moves out of the CBD, there will be 30 units of affordable housing.

As Cincinnatians, we should be proud of many things.  One of the things of which we should be PROUDEST is the fact that we are the birthplace of urban planning.  In the 1920s reform movement, Boss Cox made urban planning a top priority in the City of Cincinnati.  Shortly after this event, the University of Cincinnati’s Planning Department was launched – a prototype for Universities all over the country.  In 1925, Cincinnati developed its first plan, with successive plans in 1948, 1980, and 2002.  The latest plan, the Over-the-Rhine Comprehensive plan, was casually shelved in 2003 due to the fact that Mayor Luken abolished the City’s planning department to balance the budget.  Shortly after this incident, 3CDC was born and has primarily served as the planning division of City Hall since that time.

In October of 2000, when John Cranley was making his first run for City Council, he pushed for and publicly supported the Housing Impaction Ordinance.  This ordinance made the use of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) impossible in areas of concentrated poverty.  CDBGs have been a program of HUD since 1974 and are designed to promote and assist in community development activities (frequently including affordable housing projects).  In October of 2000, the City of Cincinnati passed the ordinance, “forbid[ding] the City of Cincinnati from spending, approving or in any way condoning more subsidized low-income development in those areas deem[ed] impacted.”  The ordinance goes on to “require that CDBG monies that are designated for new low-income development not be spent inside the City of Cincinnati until there is more equitable regional affordable housing.”  The problem?  Neighborhoods had housing projects shoved down their throats with no comprehensive plan as to how to actually INTEGRATE their neighborhood, and affordable housing initiatives like ReSTOC’s (Race Street Tenant Organization Cooperative) Vine Street project were squashed.

Proponents of ordinances such as these claim that the concentration of poverty in Over-the-Rhine was the root cause of all of the social ills in the community.  This claim is based on no research and is simply politically convenient.  I can tell you, quite confidently, what IS at the root issue of the social ills in our community – underfunded public schools, slicing of human services, dicing of free health clinics, obliteration of the neighborhood support program, cavalier destruction of arts programs, loss of significant funding for our City’s parks, the disappearance of decent jobs for low-skilled workers, and, of course, a serious lack of affordable housing.

So – why not talk about these things on the City level more frequently?  Well, because the solutions require sacrifices on many levels, and they are never easy.  However, for long term financial stability and reduction in crime, these things HAVE to be discussed.

You may recall what happened on April 7th, 2001.  If not, I will remind you – Timothy Thomas was murdered in Over-the-Rhine.  What resulted was social unrest and riots.  Let me be VERY clear – I am NOT blaming the riots on the Housing Impaction Ordinance, but I AM blaming the riots on years of disinvestment, shuffling problems around, widespread casual attitudes toward housing, and a seeming inability to face the TRUE problems in our City head on.

We have CONSISTENTLY come up with the wrong answers.  Why?  Simple.  Because the questions were all wrong.

The question is how to move forward with EVERYONE in our community on board.  You CANNOT develop or reinvest at the cost of so many being left behind.  It will, mark my words, come back to bite.  And when it does, the bite will not heal as quickly as it did in 2001.

We must rethink how we use housing in our City.  I have proposed an Anti-Displacement Ordinance.  I also propose new developments in the City having a mandated 3 to 5% affordable stock in their buildings.  I propose, as I have many times, rolling back the property tax abatement.  It just makes sense – the services that the City provides are tied directly to property, not income – safety, garbage collection, etc. – these all involve property.  Many paying income tax in our City do not live in the City.  Why should they pay for me to have police presence in my neighborhood?  That doesn’t make any sense.  Of course, I am not proposing doing away with the income tax, but we need to be smarter about how we utilize taxes.  Lastly, the Housing Retention Fund (HRF) of old needs to be reinstated.  The HRF mandated that parties responsible for tearing down housing pay into a fund for future housing development.  The equation was goofy, the fund never made much money, and it was abolished.  It is time to look at it again.  It is also time to propose an addendum to how the fund operated – i.e., if a bank forecloses on a home they are held responsible to mow the lawn, etc.  Why not hold them responsible to pay a small percentage into an HRF for future home ownership?

All of these initiatives not only plan for the long term and take the most vulnerable in our communities into account – they also secure everyone’s financial stability.  We will ALL be better off if we re-imagine how we plan our communities.  The mistakes of the past are beautiful things, but only if we learn from them.  Budgets can be balanced without having to cut vital public services every single year.  They can be balanced with intelligent and equitable investment.  We can make our communities safer in smarter ways, and all the while live up to Cincinnati’s esteemed heritage as the birthplace of urban planning.

Please join me in calling for development not just Downtown, but in every neighborhood, for every person.  Many decisions made in our City in the past have ignored basic principles of economics.  This is not about liberal, conservative or democrat, republican – this is about logic and time-tested policies that work.  This is about not settling for second or third-best any longer.  This is about demanding more from your elected officials.

This is about us.  Team Cincinnati.  One day at a time, all of us together.

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