CINCINNATI - A vote in two weeks by Hamilton County's three Commissioners could pave the way for an 80 percent increase in public housing units in suburban townships and municipalities.
That's when the Commissioners will consider a Cooperation Agreement with the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CHMA) to develop up to 375 units in the five year period ending June 30, 2016.
CHMA currently owns 5,269 public housing units in Hamilton County with 482 of them in suburban communities. The remainder are in the City of Cincinnati.
"The demand for affordable housing is up in this current economy," CMHA Communications Coordinator Kelly Kramer wrote in a statement for WCPO-TV. "CHMA has 13,000 on its Housing Choice Voucher waiting list and another 1,500 on the public housing waiting list."
Kramer said a new focus of the federal government is the transformation of rental assistance and the traditional role of public housing. She cited development of the Baldwin Grove mixed-finance senior community in Springdale and collaboration with Mount Healthy on developing affordable housing opportunities.
Commission President Greg Hartmann said he sees no choice but to approve the agreement, which involves only public housing units and does not involve housing choice vouchers.
"I'm not a supporter of a huge proliferation of public housing, but in this specific instance, we've got to reach an agreement with the federal government," he said. "If we didn't, we'd be inviting a federal discrimination lawsuit and that would be bad for the county."
The agreement is an offshoot of a 1987 housing discrimination lawsuit. The settlement in that case required suburban communities to accept housing projects or risk losing federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
Civil rights attorney Robert Newman said many people who qualify for public housing are already living in areas outside of Cincinnati and the agreement isn't adding that much more housing given the total number of units in the county.
"I don't think the county or any of these townships want to invite more litigation in federal court," he said. "They don't want to have the great expense and they don't want to lost community block grant funds, so I think this is a no-brainer."
Newman said he feels public housing helps the real estate market and neighborhoods.
"This is good for the county and good for the townships because public housing stabilizes neighborhoods," he added. "This is going to be well-maintained and good housing and it's good for people."
Hartmann countered that he feels some changes are needed in the structure of the federal housing programs to minimize the impact on communities.
"I think that public housing has seen declines in real estate values and I think that's clearly a problem," he said. "I think the ball is in the court of the townships and of the CMHA Board in monitoring how housing gets distributed."
Kramer said the majority of residents served by CMHA are elderly and working families and that the agency enforces very strict guidelines for resident conduct, safety and crime, property upkeep and building codes.
"Studies indicate conclusively that affordable housing has little or no effect on neighboring property values, which are closely tied to broader trends in neighborhood prosperity, infrastructure and development," Kramer wrote.
There are 39 cities, villages and townships in Hamilton County and all but eight of them are involved in the Cooperation Agreement to allow additional public housing units.
Amberley Village, Evendale, Indian Hill, Madeira, Mariemont, Milford, Newtown and Terrace Park are not participating in the Hamilton County/CMHA agreement.
Madeira City Manager Tom Moeller said the city currently has two four-family units on Shawnee Run Road that are owned by CHMA.
"It's not as though the city has ever opposed what CMHA has proposed to do," Moeller said. "But, in this situation I think the county is trying to diffuse some of the public housing that currently is located in Cincinnati and trying to get it out in the county regions."
Moeller added that the city is eligible for participation in the Community Development Block Grant program, but has chosen not to do so because its neighborhoods aren't eligible for funding.
Some might think Madeira is trying to avoid having more public housing units, but Moeller said that simply is not the case.
"I can see where some people would have that perception, but in reality, from our perspective, we look at it as though we're leaving that money available from other communities," he said.
Still pending is a Voluntary Compliance Agreement between CHMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)to settle a discrimination finding against CHMA by HUD.
Approval of that document could come during a CHMA Board meeting on June 9.